You know that stereotype that Australians love sports? It’s not a stereotype. It’s fact. Well, from my experience it is, anyway. Within the first few days of being in Sydney it was clear I had stepped into fitness fanatics territory; I think I have already described how, one lunchtime, walking through the Royal Botanic Gardens, I saw more runners/ boxers/ power-walkers/ bodybuilders than I had ever witnessed in my one-hour midday desk breakaways in London. At one point, I was convinced I’d inadvertently wandered onto a marathon course, and was going to get trampled to death before I’d even made it out of the State of NSW. Here, clearly, healthiness is a way of life for many residents. It’s like the bikini diet that never ends… which may be part of the reason that I said hello to a new gym membership this week. Although, really, that’s beside the point.
Because – personal fitness aside – Travel Bud and I have quickly realised that here, Sport is King. And there’s a LOT to choose from. Which is why we have undertaken a new course – Introductory Education to Australian Sports, aka going down to the pub/ nearest sports stadium with our Aussie and Kiwi boy mates, and learning (or re-learning) all we can about Aussie Rules (AFL), Rugby League (NRL) and Rugby Union – and that’s just for starters.
To begin with, Travel Bud Tracy has taken on the Aussie Rules Experience – her lessons started with a match last weekend in Melbourne – while I decided to go for a module in Rugby: A Re-education (it’s a sport I always liked watching, but whose rules I have always found a little…erm, misty?), by checking out a game between Kiwi housemate Al’s team, the Auckland Blues and the Stormers. It wasn’t a great intro, as the Blues lost, at which point there may, or may not have been some tears shed in the direction of a pint glass.
So far, so good. Until, last night, the PE lesson plan got a bit confused with the second rugby match of the week. Can someone please explain the difference between Rugby League and Union, without any biased comments such as ‘only meatheads play Union’ or vice versa. It’s not so helpful for a rookie, as it doesn’t really class as a rule… does it?!
We went round the corner to our local with our housemates to watch the first leg of the State of Origin – a three-part Rugby League grudge match between Queensland and NSW. I was a bit confused about why only these two teams participated, and wondered aloud to Aussie housemate Rob whether it was a bit like the Annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (only longer, and with more clashes). I got a bit of a ‘you’re such a POM’ look in response, followed by an explanation that League is only really played in these two states, as everyone else prefers Union… at least, I think that’s what I was told. Feel free to correct me. I vaguely nodded and peered into my schooner, decided to give up trying to understand and just watch the match. I think that was a good call.
Whatever the rules, whoever we were meant to be supporting (we kept forgetting it should be NSW as we’re living here), we were rewarded with an action-packed first-round game, with a full-on post-match punch up on the pitch! I think I could easily become a rugby fan. There’s the potential to become as addicted to this series of matches as I already am to the edge-of-the-seat pantomime entertainment Amazing Race Australia.
And I guess that if ever the match we’re watching becomes too dull, I’ll just resort to what Tracy was doing – staring in wonder at, and regularly commenting on, the size of the players’ thighs! What do you mean we’re not proper sports fans? It’s just another form of appreciation…