simple things in rugby
By Robert Ingall
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.
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.
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
In my short time in the country I knew about the love for cricket,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.