Monday, July 7, 2008

Meat Golems

This weekend we got a weekly dose of Netball thanks to Zoe's Ngaio Sapphires and our first full dose of the New Zealand All Blacks thanks to a time-delayed television broadcast of their Tri-Nations opener Test Match with the Springboks of South Africa---the number one ranked Rugby Union team. The All Blacks are USUALLY the number one ranked Rugby League team. It was a home game here in Wellington.

I can't pretend to understand Rugby yet.

The All Blacks were as successful in their contest as the Ngaio Sapphires weren't. Zoe's team, coming fresh from two back to back victories (a winning streak in the sense that a streak is more than one consecutive victories,) ran headlong into an unyielding Johnsonville Year 5 team.

My wish from the previous week---that Zoe see more action at Goal Keep---was granted, and the J-ville girls kept the ball inside the Ngaio half court more or less the whole game. I didn't catch the score, but I distinctly remember Haley stomping her foot and screaming "Aaaahhh!!!" in exasperation at least three times.

Zoe eventually started to see that preventing the other team's Goal Shoot from getting the ball and knocking it away, plucking it from the air or smacking it towards her teammates were all working to the Sapphires' benefit. Towards the end of the game we were proud to see Zoe sending the ball out of the Ngaio goal area with confidence.

In the end the Sapphires lost, but Zoe got some good hands-on time as Goal Keep that included actual play and not shivering and wiggling her legs in the cold while all the action happened at the other end of the court.

The All Blacks, however, trounced the number one ranked Springboks. It was fun to watch. They're an impressive array of thick men who mete out and absorb tremendous physical punishment in nearly equal measures. It was the first time Joanne and I watched a whole game, and I found it to be absolutely captivating---because of its newness but also its intensity.

At one point Joanne turned to me and said "it's like they formed them out of minced meat" and I agreed.

"They're like Meat Golems."

I'm pretty sure any one of them could crush my skull between opposing palms, though they're not monsters with Human-Growth-Hormone-induced gaps between maxillary central incisors and Lyle Alzado-like brow ridges and hints of gorilla-like parietal crests. They're attractive men who look healthy and strong. And---towards the end of the game---covered in blood. Both their own and others'.

Watching a game is a little like watching a soccer game where the participants lost patience with the whole "don't touch the ball" concept and just said, "dammit, just give me that thing" and started passing it around. It's pretty much ninety minutes of continuous activity punctuated with a periodic scrum. At the point the official says "engage" when calling the "touch... touch... ...engage!" of the scrum you can see a shockwave move across the backs and shoulders of the web of interlocked bodies. The sense of power is enormous.

I can see why the sport is popular here. It's brutal, but it's extremely honest. It's just a bunch of guys and a ball on the grass for an hour and a half.

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