You know the All Blacks, the Springboks, maybe even the Wallabies? You do not think with the words scrum and alley on a Sunday open for sale? Then you should belong to a clear minority in Germany. While millions of fans around the world are looking forward to the Rugby World Cup in Japan starting this Friday, the sport is hardly noticed here.
Why is that? Rugby is a national sport in countries like South Africa, England or France. I wanted to know what constitutes the sport, how it works. Why do so many people love him? Can I do it in Germany, where there are fewer registered rugby players than weightlifters, according to a statistic of the DOSB, as a fan?
The starting position was not promising. Until a few weeks ago, I knew more about Quidditch than about rugby. I work in Germany as a sports journalist, which suggests a certain football affinity, and even play in the club. Although I'm upset by the three extra roles that many footballers are making after a foul, it does not annoy me so much to renounce football.
Haka in my Facebook timeline
My only experience with rugby so far was a former classmate who took the ball regularly in the breakfirst football, "rugby" screamed and ran into the opponent's goal. And the famous haka of the New Zealand national team: The ritual dance of the All Blacks, which they celebrate before every game, had once made it to my Facebook timeline.
New Zealand as a first clue. So I bought the biography of Richie McCaw, who became captain of the All Blacks in 2011 and 2015 world champion. I was recommended the movie "Invictus", which focuses on the influence of rugby on South Africa after the end of apartheid, the 1995 World Champion team and Nelson Mandela. And I wrote to my girlfriend's former guest brother, who moved to South Africa for rugby from France and played there for several years in the second division.
Rugby seemed pathetic, masculine, martial. "Kill or be killed," says McCaw's book. Kill or be killed. In "Invictus" rugby is described as a sport for hooligans played by gentlemen. My new French chat friend wrote that rugby players are respected worldwide for putting their lives on the line.
Ok, maybe you prefer football?
I watched a German rugby second division match: No haka and nobody left his life. But although the players were not professionals and the game had little to do with the intensity and speed of the sport that I knew from preparing for the internet, I took pleasure in finally seeing a game in the stadium, not just on the laptop ,
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And you have to say: Close up, it seemed even more brutal. Players who leaned forward and sprinted into a wall of enemies without any protection. Close up, bodies were banging against each other. With each tackle, I flinched and did not follow the gameplay, but the players left lying on the floor. I would not play myself, that was soon clear to me.
It is one of the fairest sports I have seen so far. No big lamenting with the referee, no hidden fouls, players who smiles after a hard tackling with the opponent. Given the sometimes ridiculous drama that I'm exposed to every week in football, rugby was a revelation.
But I did not feel really prepared for the World Cup. I read portraits of the different teams, took notes about the key players of the favorites, watched highlight videos of the Argentine prodigy Emiliano Boffelli or the Irish star player Johnny Sexton. I looked at how Ireland lost as current world number one in a World Cup preparation game home-high against the Third England. And I asked my chat friend how he judged the title chances of the South African national team, the Springboks. Not surprisingly: very high.
As much as I focused on rugby, I did not make it out of the football filter bubble. But at least the curiosity has grown. I clicked through the football databases a few weeks ago to find out more about goalkeeping talents, and in the meantime I find myself catching on playing highlights of past rugby world champions until late into the night.
Will my affinity for rugby survive beyond the World Cup? That depends above all on the performance of the South African Springboks. Every fan needs a favorite.
I have decided to try it. The screens of my laptop will be shared this Friday. On the one hand the Rugby World Cup, on the other football. At least for six weeks.