The biggest sporting event in the world is probably the Olympics. The next biggest is the FIFA World Cup. The next biggest is something I bet most of you have never heard of. The Rugby World Cup. It is watched by a billion people worldwide.
The Rugby World Cup has only been around since 1987, but like the FIFA World Cup and Olympics, it comes around once every four years. 20 teams from around the world compete, including the United States and Canada, but the U.S. isn’t very good.
Today, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, the New Zealand All Blacks, are playing the No. 2 ranked team in the world, the Australian Wallabies, in the Rugby World Cup semifinals. The entire country will be watching that game. New Zealand is 5-0 in the World Cup this year and has outscored its opponents 273-59. The Wallabies have a very tough defence and beat the mighty Springboks in the quarterfinals.
The other semifinal is today — tiny Wales versus France, another rugby powerhouse. Wales is ranked No. 4 in the world, while Les Bleus, the 2007 World Cup champion, is ranked No. 5.
Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. New Zealand is favoured to win the World Cup virtually every tournament and they have been ranked either No.1 or No. 2 every single year of the 21st century. But, they have only ever won it once, the first one in 1987. New Zealand has lost a series of heartbreakers ever since. The heavily favoured All Blacks lost in the World Cup finals in 1995 in a terrible heartbreaker to the South Africa Springboks. You might’ve seen a Clint Eastwood movie about it called “Invictus.”
Rugby is SUCH a big deal in New Zealand that if you look at the Auckland newspaper’s website, it is pretty All Blacks all over the site … and the terrible oil spill in New Zealand is kind of buried at the bottom of the page.
New Zealand also lost in the semifinals in 1999 and 2003.
One of the reasons New Zealand is so powerful is the All Blacks always feature a number of Maori stars. Moaris like many Polynesian people are a very strong and powerful people (It’s the same reason there are so many Samoans in American football.) Before each match, the All Blacks perform a stirring Maori “Haka” war dance to try and intimidate their opponents. It is done with all due respect and the other team usually stands still and respectfully watches.
Rugby is very much like your American football, only no high-tech helmets and no forward passes. Imagine American football with a series of laterals and that is pretty close. It is a terrible brutal and violent sport, with a lot of blood and broken noses. We were made to play it in school, though we played “touch” or “rippa” rugby, which is not nearly as violent, but still resulted in our fair share of bloody noses and tears. I played rugby all the way into college. Of course, it was touch rugby, our insurance would have never covered tackle.
Despite its massive popularity around the world, it’s hard to catch some of the World Cup on American TV. It’s on some obscure network called Universal which has been showing the matches. We had to go a sports bar to watch one All Blacks match, but NBC is showing some of the matches. I believe NBC will be showing the finals on Oct. 23.