Here's what it looked like in the summer when I came here last January. Pristine. Perfect. Begging to be ground into a muddy pulp by a messy scrum. This (along with the clearly RAGING rugby clubhouse at the far end) was enough to give me serious nostalgia pangs for the old game.
Of course now I'm here at the tail end of rugby season - winter is just about over, the rains are gone, and the spring winds (Cape Doctor) are getting stronger seemingly every day. I had the good fortune to catch a couple of matches, Saturday and last night. They do play better rugby here. But not that much better! Not that much different actually. One of my students is a prop so I saw his last game. They have something like intramurals I think, it's called "hostiles" or something? Not sure I understood that right. Anyway, there are 34 15-man squads in the hostiles, 18 A-teams and 15 B-teams. That's right, one campus, no less than 510 rugby players. Oh but wait, I didn't even mention the 3 21-man squads on varsity. Contrast that to your typical American university where they can't find a 15th man on game day. But these are all men!! Where are the counterparts to my 80 bright and beautiful Smith Women! Ah, they get brighter and more beautiful as the memories fade. Bitches. No just kidding.
There is not a single women's side at UCT. There are some in local clubs, and the province is fielding a team. Best yet - while I stood on the sidelines, one woman walked around in shorts and cleats. As it was cold (not shorts weather), I figured she was a lost soccer player or something. But then I overheard a man explaining to her to run forward and out to the strong side in front of the scrumhalf after he had passed the ball out to the flyhalf - he was coaching her in referee positioning! A few minutes later, another woman walked up and he spoke to her similarly, this time in Afrikaans, but from his wild hand and body motions I could see he was explaining where to go if you think the scrumhalf is going to throw weak out of a set scrum. This guy was very expressive.
Naturally I had to introduce myself and lie about the depth of my expertise and exaggerate my experience level. This establishes one rugger to another. Nah just kidding but it turns out he's a sort of? retired professional ref, running the Wynberg chapter of the Western Cape referees association. They have a major clinic to mentor and train new refs, some of whom are ex-players (as all American refs are) but some of whom - like these women - have never played but are huge fans of the game and have a strong desire to get involved! The UCT intermurals are the training grounds for these new refs. The whole referee association then meets Monday nights for the play by play, the breakdown, coaching and story telling etc.
I got his number. Now I have to get my endurance back up by January so I don't make an ass of myself. A typical ref can sprint in bursts totalling 3-8 miles per game depending on the level of play and fitness of the players. Here's how I'll keep myself busy when Sila's out of town.