The simple things in rugby
By Robert Ingall
Finding the ground wasn’t the problem, oh no. The problem was getting into it. And so began my introduction to rugby in Sri Lanka. Not that I was new to rugby. Coming from England, I played the game for many years, but here I really didn’t know what the game would be like.

The game was Sri Lanka vs China in a World Cup qualifier. All I knew was that Sri Lanka had won their two previous matches, I think, and China, well, nothing.

I was warned beforehand that it would be a good idea to get there early. I asked why and the answer surprised me: “To beat the crowds.”
In my short time in the country I knew about the love for cricket, but rugby?
The match was to start at 3.30pm, so I reckoned to get there about 15 minutes early. Then there are always times when you should listen to people in-the-know. Once at the ground I was rather stunned to see how many people were queuing. It was long; I mean I couldn’t even see the ticket office. And on top of that there were people trying to queue jump.

I first started getting a bit nervous after about 10 minutes as I hadn’t really moved. The there was that bit of realisation, the people who hadn’t managed to queue jump were now asking those in front to buy their tickets too.
The thing about rugby, and it does seem to be the world over, it the friendliness of the crowds, and there was no exception here. I got to know some great people while I waited. That was the good thing, the bad thing was the roar we all outside suddenly heard. I assumed it was for the teams coming out —. and not a bad roar at that.

At least the noise from the crowd seemed to get the queue moving. And it wasn’t long before I was just about standing in front of the ticket office, when another roar went up. It could only mean a try, and a home one at that. I was getting rather impatient, a nasty trait of mine, but soon enough I had handed over my Rs 200 and was heading for the entrance; only to hear another roar.
The ground was rather small and quaint in the nicest possible way, and was full to the rafters on both sides. They do like their rugby it seems. I have to admit that in my playing days I’d played on bigger stages, but I’d never played in front of such a noisy bunch. But I was right on one count, the home team had scored two tries almost from the off.

Due to the crowds I couldn’t see along the side so I decided to hit one of the ends. A beer was bought on the way, and what a lovely price it was to. And so I ended up at the end Sri Lanka was attacking, plus there was a commentary team, with a monitor, and that ever-handy technical marvel called the reply option.

And what were my first impressions of the rugby going on. Not that brilliant to be honest, and that opinion didn’t change for the match as a whole. But I’m sure there was a reason for that, Chinese team was rather poor, and that’s being rather complimentary. So overall the game was very one-sided, but that didn’t stop the crowd having a famous time, even if there was a bit jeering for not scoring more against such a poor team. I guess it’s that old foible of either dropping or rising to the standard of your opposition.

There was everything that you would expect in a match back in England: the moans, the groans, the oohs, the ahhs, the build up as an attack was going on, phase by phase, to the eruption of noise when a side scores.
One of the strangest things I did see though, but in fact it ended up being a bonus for me, was the match stopping for a drinks break. I was sure this wasn’t cricket, but no, there was a drinks break. The good thing was it gave the commentators time to show the tries already scored and it was just a hop, skip and jump to be able to view them too.

And that was another for this day of realisations: the game is played in that seemingly amateur spirit I played it in. Everything and everybody was so approachable. And it wasn’t ruined by over zealous security guards. In fact I really don’t remember seeing any, but that was probably due to the sheer enjoyment I was sharing with a few thousand others.

But back to the drinks break. I suppose it was a ploy to use the heat against the Chinese, and it certainly seemed to work. Even that didn’t matter after a time as the team I was supporting was winning and went on to thumping 30-0 victory, and it could have been so much more. I was impressed with the organisation of the home squad. It seemed they were actually playing as a team, and they knew it.

When I studied the crowd it was that great picture of young and old, of both sexes, of talking the game and taking on the role as coach to tell anybody who would listen that they knew the secret to take Sri Lanka to the next level. I might have been in South Asia but it was the same game I played, with the same type of people supporting it, with the same enthusiasm.

When it was all over, there again was that refreshing amateur feel, where players and fans happily mixing, with no sign of players’ delusion of grandeur. Then again I guess that all might change if serious money came into the game — just look at a number of wealthy European clubs I could mention.

Once the players had left, I noticed that there were fathers and sons playing touch rugby. It was wonderful. So congratulations Sri Lanka on the victory, but please can I see a few more game with that atmosphere repeated. It was truly a fun afternoon.


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