If you know anything about New Zealand, you know that we are crazy about rugby, and that it is very important to us. It is a core part of kiwi culture and it is a big part of our lives. Everyone plays soccer (or, should I say, football) in Europe. In the United States, everyone plays grid iron (or, should I say again, football). In Japan, its baseball. But here, it is definitely rugby. In our continuing blog series, we will look into why it is such a fixture in the lives on New Zealanders and the impact it us on our country.
First off, what is rugby?
It is a team sport that was created in England during the 1800’s and so it is relatively new. No one knows the exact history of how it came to be. The legend says that during a game of soccer at a school named “Rugby School”, one of the players, William Webb-Ellis, picked up the ball and ran with it. Out of this, the sport was born. The aim of the game is to place the oval-shaped ball on the ground over the goal lines; this is called a try. To get there, players must run there to place it. Standing in their way is the other team, who can tackle opposing players to the ground; this is called a breakdown. Players can pass the ball to each other by throwing it backwards, and they can kick it forward at any time. Unlike grid-iron, there are a lot of rules over how players can tackle others. This means that players usually play without any protective gear.
How did it become so popular?
The indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori, had been playing a game very similar to Aussie Rules before settlers even arrived. When the settlers from England came ashore, they brought rugby with them, which the Māori populations quickly adopted. Its a game that requires a lot of physical fitness, agility and strength; you need a lot of muscle to withstand the tackles. The fact that both the English and the Māori played similar games meant that it was a great way for them to bond and connect. It also fit the New Zealand way of life perfectly; the settlers that arrived were hardened rural farmers, but the real star of the show were the Māori who were very strong and already very skilled at a similar sport. Despite the fact that the British teams received more training and attention, when they first played off against the kiwi’s in the early 1900’s they were not prepared for our guys; they were hardened rural folk. It clicked with the kiwi way of life and it took off; New Zealand quickly became the best in the world.
Why is it so important to NZ culture?
Rugby is the third biggest game in the world; and yet despite our small population (just 4.4 million people), New Zealand is the best in the world – both in the male and female leagues. This is especially important as NZ has a friendly rivalry with Australia, whose team, the Wallabies, are national leaders. Thus, games between them and the All Blacks receive a huge amount of attention. It is a source of pride for our nation, and from a young age children – both boys and girls – are introduced to it and play it. The All Blacks are national heroes and everyone knows and recognises them. Every year there are competitions between the different cities teams, such as the Crusaders (Canterbury), the Blues (Auckland) and the Hurricanes (Wellington). Ultimately, the reason it is so important to us is that, as a nation, we are born to be amazing players – and for those not quite as skilled in the sport (like me) we still love it!