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A vote for the ruggers

Americans love the wrong international game

Posted: Friday June 10, 2005 1:16PM; Updated: Friday June 10, 2005 1:16PM
Matt Wyatt, Ryan Jones
United States' Matt Wyatt is pulled down by Wales' Ryan Jones during the friendly match on June 4.

One late night a few weeks ago, I had a revelation: We've had the wrong international sport shoved down our throats the past few decades.

I decided this while watching the college rugby championships on College Sports TV. I had never watched rugby before and didn't understand half of what I was seeing, but it didn't matter. I saw rugby has everything soccer doesn't: hitting, fat guys and liberal use of hands. I concluded that if rugby had been promoted in this country like soccer since the mid-70s, the sale would have closed by the dawn of the first George Bush administration.

I became taken by this conviction, boring my friends with this theory whenever the opportunity allowed, even though I had, in fact, watched only 20 minutes of the CSTV match. So when I saw USA Rugby was playing a game in my neighborhood, I headed to it with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I was eager to see this game I was trumpeting played live; I was also afraid the game, viewed in full, would be boring and incomprehensible and I would have to face the possibility that I had run my mouth off before I knew what I was talking about.

Frankly, it's happened before.

So I went up to Hartford to see the USA national squad take Wales, one of the top teams in the world, and also to see if my theory, hatched in darkness, could survive the sunshine.

The diary of my day

Arrive in parking lot, early afternoon: Rugby fans are tailgaiting. I feel like I've entered a cult of stout, shirtless men . A young woman wears a T-shirt that says "Making Rugby Sexy." Oh, if merely saying it would make it so...

20 minutes before gametime: In the press box. I notice the only yard-line marked on the field is the 22. How intuitive!

10 minutes before gametime: That's actually the 22-meter line, I learn while looking through the Rugby 101 book handed out to the media.

Game starts. First of two 40-minute halves. The clock runs continuously; all times approximate.

2:40 Wales carries the ball over the goal, makes conversion. It's 7-0, just as if they had scored a touchdown. I can do this! I decide not to note every Wales score, because I have only have so much ink in my pen.

15:00: USA's first score. A field goal! Or whatever they call it! USA trails 14-3.

24:40: USA makes its first penetration inside the 22 meter line. Or what I will call "the red zone." I've decided whenever possible to use football terminology rather than learn the appropriate rugby lingo.

28:22: A USA player laterals the ball off a teammate's face. Fumble! Wales leads 28-3.

39:57: Three seconds before halftime, Wales scores on a breakaway run that covers half the field. Even though it was a run, it feels like a Hail Mary. Wales leads 42-3.