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Rugby and Tequila

One weekend at the end of November, I had the luck to get tickets to a rugby game; but not just any rugby game: The New Zealand All Blacks vs. The Scotland Unable To Do Anything Right, Ever. It was my first rugby game ever, and also perhaps the most lopsided competition I've ever seen in any sport. Scotland has never been able to beat New Zealand at rugby, and this game was no exception.

I knew I was in for a treat, though, when the two teams first took the field. While the Scottish team demurely came out, listened to their national anthem, and got prepared to play, the New Zealand team required a bit more preparation. After taking the field and listening to their national anthem (one of the cooler national anthems I've ever heard, might I add), the All Blacks began a massive choreographed Maori war cry, entitled the "Te Rauparaha Haka." Usually, an All Black of Maori descent will instigate the Haka and spur the rest of the team on, into a violent chant.

According to the New Zealand Rugby Musuem, the Haka goes like this:

Ringa pakia
Uma tiraha
Turi whatia
Hope whai ake
Waewae takahia kia kino

English Translation:
Slap the hands against the thighs
Puff out the chest
Bend the knees
Let the hip follow
Stamp the feet as hard as you can.

Ka Mate! Ka Mate!
Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru
Nana nei i tiki mai

Whakawhiti te ra
A upane ka upane!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra!

English Translation:
It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!
This is the hairy person
Who caused the sun to shine
Keep abreast! Keep abreast
The rank! Hold fast!
Into the sun that shines!

Even though I didn't know the actual translation of the chant, I knew that the Scots would be lucky to not to be stewing in a Maori pot by the end of the evening. I would be no help, though. I went with a crowd of a dozen Kiwis from the hostel, who were wearing corresponding war paint and screaming and dancing the Haka themselves. I was hoping that none of my friends remembered me saying I was part Scottish to worry about the Scots on the field.

My Kiwi friends calmed down a little bit once the game got started and their Maori warriors started decimating the Scottish sheep, and so I got busy trying to figure out the rules of the game. As far as I can tell, rugby is a variation on the American kid's game, "smear the queer," (which I assume has acquired a more politically correct title since I played it in my youth: "Attack the Afghani" or "Ream the Raghead") except with slightly more rules. In fact, the only thing keeping the game from degenerating into pure kicking mutilating chaos is that play is stopped every 30 seconds for a penalty that no-one, not even the players, really understands. In fact, as far as I can tell, that's why there are so many penalties; the referees give them to players without telling the players what they've done wrong. Which ensures that rugby referees will always be employed. You can always play baseball or basketball without necessarily needing a referee, but penalties seem to be an essential part of rugby.

I was sitting with perhaps the worst instructor for this, a kiwi with an accent as incomprehensible as a Jackson Pollock painting, and an inability to string thoughts together comprehensibly that suggested he'd played a couple too many games of rugby in his youth himself. It is also an unfortunate result of having grown up playing a game for so long that you forget that other people might not understand it. It is an odd paradox, but sometimes the more familiar you are with a particular thing, the less likely you'll be able to explain it to someone new.

My kiwi friend still didn't understand why penalties were awarded, though.

"So they're getting a penatly kick right now, right?" I'd ask.

"Right," he'd respond.

"So what are they getting the penalty for?"



"Look, it has something...well, it...okay, not even God understands why they're getting a penalty, okay?"

The All Blacks won 37-6. The Scottish seriously looked like they were considering seppuku as the only honorable way out. Thankfully, they had another way out: drinking until they were unable to remember their own names, much less their staggering defeat.

Oddly enough, the Kiwis left to go drink until they were unable to remember their own names, much less their staggering victory. Who was I to argue? When in Rome, do what the Romans do. When in Edinburgh, drink.

So we went back to the hostel and had a bottle of tequila. In ten minutes. Between three of us, just pounding them back. Dom the Aussie Delilah cut the lemons, Nick the Talkative Canadian grabbed the salt (I didn't really know his name at the time, and was just calling him "Toronto" because it really irritated him to be reduced to a dull Canadian city, and Canadians are so funny when they're irritated), and I just started pouring. We were right in the main dining room of the hostel, which was absolutely packed, and we poured a couple shots for others to take with us, but really it was mostly Dom and I showing off to the crowd how crazy brave we could be (ahhh...the phony toughness of alcoholics), while Toronto was smart enough to pace himself. We emptied the bottle in ten minutes, finishing off shot after shot before we could feel the effects of the previous ones, and just sat there for about five minutes, grins getting bigger and more crooked. Toronto slipped away to the toilet for a second and came back wiping his mouth. I convinced someone to buy me a beer. And then we went out for a night on the town. There was another bottle of absinthe waiting when I came back, and another hangover the next morning.

It was glorious.


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