CARSON, CA – After slaving away here at MTM Industries since this site was just a mimeographed newsletter faxed out to a half dozen subscribers and disconnected numbers – not much has changed – I finally got the call that was going to make it all worthwhile. It was Short Matt, prying open the purse strings and getting me actual press passes to an actual sporting event! My mind was aflame with all the possibilities! It could only mean the clinching game 5 of the Stanley Cup, right here in L.A., right? No? Well, maybe I was being sent across the country to North Carolina to cover the U.S. Open…or, or…could it be a ticket to San Antonio for the Spurs’ oh-so satisfying dispatching of the tiresome Heat? Not so much? Could I possibly be so lucky to get to cover one of the opening round games of the World Cup? I’ve got my banana-hammock ready for the girls from Ipanema, just give me the word! So many great sports happening this weekend, it had to be good whatever it was, right?
Wait, what… rugby?
Yes, with the Rugby World Cup a year away, the matches gearing up for it have begun in earnest and Saturday night saw the Eagles of our good ol’ USA, take on Japan’s finest, so red and fierce they must have a really cool name. Turns out they’re called the “Japan national union rugby team” and their nickname is a variant of their renowned cherry blossoms – the “Brave Blossoms.” Doesn’t exactly strike fear the way something like being called the “All Blacks” might, so how tough could they be? Turns out, pretty tough.
Now full disclosure, I have never watched a single rugby match, ever. For a detailed report I’ll leave it to the friend-I-never-met there, Nick, who had the wherewithal to live blog it on Rugby Wrap Up. He uses words like “maul” and “knocks” that I thought I knew the definitions for, but apparently don’t. I don’t how many points a try is worth (turns out it’s 5), nor do I know a scrum from a taint. It’s far more of a Frankenstein sport than I imagined. It’s a little like soccer, but not. The players get knocked down, they don’t mysteriously flop, and the ref always plays on. You’re allowed to use your hands…but then there are times, during the scrum, when the ball is just lying on the ground, being pushed along by feet, and you feel like yelling “Ball! It’s right there! Pick it up already!” It’s a little like basketball…well, not really, but there’s a kind of tip-off where they’re allowed to vault each other up like cheerleaders in a Bring It On competition to catch inbound passes. It’s like a pile of burly dudes, and suddenly one of them springs up and out of the top to catch the ball, then disappears back into the mosh pit. It’s a little like football, but not. When somebody gets hurt, time out isn’t called, the medical personal actually run on the field and work on the guy…while play is going on around them. They don’t wear helmets, but occasionally wear headbands. When they punt, it’s almost always looks like a shank out of bounds, but on purpose. They have perfectly wide uprights, but they choose to kick at them from a crazy angle.
What all that adds up to is a strange but captivating entertainment to a newbie like me, and what seemed like a rollicking good time for the rather earnest, knowledgeable, and supportive fan base there. For the first half they had a lot to cheer about, as the Eagles were fortunate to go in with a 17-17 tie, but the Blossoms blew out of the gate in the second half and never looked back. Their good mix of Sumo-sized brawlers and anime-fast small guys were too much to contain, though there continued to be a lot of scoring and the play moved all over the field.
The clock ran out on Team USA in Carson Saturday night, but they seemed to play pretty well to my untrained eyes. I had some vague ideas of how rough it is, but seeing (and hearing) the jarring, padless hits makes you cringe constantly. I may not have made for the most professional of reporters that night myself (the official media lady on the sidelines scoffed at the idea that my two kids were actually my assistants, since I was the only one with a camera and had forgotten my telephoto lens at that), but I had all five senses covered… finishing up with smell and taste on the way out, as a bacon wrapped hot dog cart lady had parked right behind my van.
Feel free to comment below and come back tomorrow for Walt “The Grinding Ax” Hynes.
P.s... Here’s Short Matt on the sidelines last week in Houston moonlighting for RugbyWrapUp.com, after Scotland beat our boys: