Sunday, October 2, 2011

Your Sport Update

If you don't already know, Australia is sport mad. [Editors note, in a quirk of the Australian language, they don't always follow the same plural rules Americans do. The plural of "sport" is "sport." Conversely, the plural of "math" is "maths"]. While the US has football and baseball as its national pastimes, with basketball and hockey existing as more niche sports, and really that's about it. I guess there is a little bit of golf and tennis, but, eh. Australia is so sport mad it can't decide what its national sport is. In Sydney, its Rugby League, in Melbourne its AFL (Australian Rules Football). Or to some people its Rugby Union. Or soccer (strangely, Australia also doesn't call it football). Cricket is also huge everywhere. NFL and MLB games are televised regularly, cycling is massive, tennis is pretty big. Its kind of unreal. I get the impression Australia might have taken over half the world by now, except there was a game on. What game? Oh, any game.

This past weekend has been an exceptionally big sporting weekend. All three footie codes (NRL, Rugby Union, and AFL) are having premierships. We'll start with Rugby Union, which is the old school Rugby you think of the British as playing. Right now, New Zealand is hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Never heard of it? Me neither. This is the seventh tournament and like the Soccer World Cup is held every four years. They claim its the third biggest international tournament in the world, but that can only be true if you count the Summer and Winter Olympics as one event. Which they aren't. Anyway, its an awesome tournament and an awesome game, but it has some problems to overcome for it to really become a world senstation. The first problem is that there are only about 6-10 really good nations, and then another 4 or 5 that are all right. And well, they still need to fill out a 20 team torunament, so they let a few other teams play, too. Sadly, the US falls into this category.

Wait? The US has an internationl rugby team? I had no idea either. We're the Eagles, and we have a 3-27 record in the World Cup I believe. We're no good, but at least we're not Namibia (who lost every game this year by at least 60). The problem comes when the great teams play the not -so-good teams. You get 87-0 scores. That's not exciting sport for anyone. So, who are the good teams? First and foremost are New Zealand, the feared All-Blacks. You probably know them from the movie Invictus.

New Zealand may be small, but they are the Brazil of International Rugby. They're the default pick for champion every time they step on the field. All-Blacks support is practically a religion in NZL, the above logo might as well be the flag of the country. Except there is one crucial difference between Brazil and New Zealand. New Zealand also has the choking ability of England. While they won the inaugural tournament in 1987, and have been the favorites every single time since, they haven't won it again. Australia has won it twice since then, which tweaks the Kiwis to no end. So while everyone agrees that New Zealand SHOULD win, no one really believes they will. As a good faux-Aussie, I support the Wallabies (you never say root in Australia, its really, really dirty).

Sadly, the Wallabies have not had the best first round experience. They have made it to the second round, but lost to Ireland in pool play, and now to get to the Finals will have to get past South Africa and New Zealand (#1 and #2 in the world), instead of relatively easier matches against Wales and England or France. Sigh.

Moving on, both AFL and NRL schedule their championship games for the same weekend. AFL is on Saturday. AFL is a giant, freewheeling mess of a game played on a cricket field, where goals are kicked on the run, and the primary means of passing is kicking it forward. If a player catches it (called a mark), he gets a free kick, so the other team has an incentive to make sure he does't catch it. As near as I can tell as long as you don't punch someone, its a legal hit. It makes for some spectacular marks. [Laurel says the no punching rule is another example of why this sport, like all sport, is inferior to hockey]

Now, this season has been pretty clear-cut from the start- the two previous Premiers, Collingwood and Geelong, have been on a collision course all season. And that is what happened. Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, won last year and has looked dominant all year. They are the Magpies and have perhaps the best logo in all of sport.

Now, I said Collingwood has been dominant, and they have. Except for two games. And both those games were against Geelong, which is a city an hour west of Melbourne. Wait? Who is Collingwood playing? Geelong? . . . Crap.

Geelong Cats. I find this hilarious. Not Wildcats. Not Panthers. Not Pumas. Not even a Catosaurus. Just plain old housecats. Regardless of their less than intimidating mascot, Geelong played Collingwood close all game until it was time for the fourth quarter and then they decided that they had played with their prey long enough, and dropped the hammer on Collingwood. They won by 38. Great game. Unless your a Magpie supporter.

Lastly, NRL. We've told you about NRL previously, as Canberra has a local team, the Canberra Raiders, Laurel's beloved Green Machine.

Sadly, after the first epic win of the season that we were at, they pretty much didn't win again all year. They finished 15 of 16. Curses. Now, the NRL fanbase seems pretty comparable to NASCAR if that tells you anything. A lot of Australians lift their noses at NRL. NRL was created to be a dumbed down, straightline version of Rugby Union, that could be played professionally (at the time Union was an amateur only thing). Its supporters say its more high-octane and exciting, but I'm unconvinced of that. This year's championship game featured a favorite, the Manly Sea Eagles, against the surprise of the year, the Auckland Warriors. The warriors were supposed to lose in the first round of the play-offs but just kept winning. Think the Arizona Cardinals from a couple years ago. The Warriors gave it a hell of a shot, but in the end the Sea Eagles were just too good.

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