Rain and Rugby

Posted on October 13th, 2009 by

This past weekend we went to a Rugby game in Moshi.  Football (soccer) is the true game of Tanzania – and the world – but Rugby is gaining popularity.  Introduced in Kenya during the colonial period it has since spread south and is becoming common in Tanzania. 

So down the hill we went to Moshi.  The international school in Moshi hosted the ‘Kili 7s’ tournament with teams from both Tanzania and Kenya.  Two leagues competed to be Junior (school aged teams) and Senior (college aged teams) Champions.  Imagine a field, or a ‘pitch’ if you will, much like an American football field.  Now replace the grand stand and press box with acacia, jacaranda and other tropical trees. 

The event lasted all day and was really rather interesting.  Some of the ex-pats we met at the party were at the tournament and they taught us all about rugby.  We added new words to our vocabulary like scrum, try, and knock-on.  The game is played with seven players for two seven minute halves (hence the Kili 7s). 

  In short, rugby is like football.  Football actually evolved out of rugby.  In more detail, rugby is played with a ball much like a football if not a little more square-ish.  The goal is the same at football – to get a touchdown.  The difference is that you actually have to touch the ball to the ground to score a point and it’s not called a touchdown, it’s called a ‘try’.  Yes, you’ve got it right, when you try in rugby you score a point.  If that doesn’t make sense think about football – it’s called football but you hardly even use your feet. 

For those of you who think American football is a tough game, you’ve apparently never seen a game of rugby.  What makes rugby such a tough sport is the tackling, like football, but they do it with only mouth guards.  No helmets, no shoulder pads, nothing.  Although unlike football, rugby is more about getting the ball than it is about tackling the other team.  In rugby, you are only allowed to tackle the person with the ball and you cannot grab, push, shove or otherwise hamper the other player’s movement.  An additional hardship is that the game is nonstop.  Although seven minutes might not sound like much, imagine running around a pitch, tackling and getting tackled without pause for seven whole minutes.  American football seems to stop at least once every two minutes and has multiple player replacements (rugby only allows for three substitutions at most). 

Other than that, the two games are quite similar.  After a try for five points, the scorer has the opportunity for a goal kick as in football for an additional two points.  Something I found really interesting is what happens after the ball goes out of bounds.  When the ball is thrown back in, two teammates lift a third teammate up into the air so that he/she can grab the ball without interference from the other team.  I say he/she because of all the teams there was one female player. 

The teams at the tournament came from a wide range of backgrounds.  Some were university teams, one was from the international school and some were from orphanages or centers for street children.  For those of you who think that your school equipment is bad, consider this: teams had matching jerseys, but different shorts.  And most of the jerseys looked like they had seen more games than Atlantis has fish.  Even more surprising, some of the teams played barefoot.  And the few pairs of shoes there were, got shared depending on who was playing.  We used to complain about our high school sports equiptment, but I can hardly complain anymore after seeing rugby players without shoes.

So we hung out all day in our borrowed lawn chairs watching rugby and chatting with other spectators.  The morning promised to be warm and sunny but by early afternoon, the clouds started to roll in.  All of the rugby players were hoping for rain because real rugby can only be played in the rain on a muddy pitch.  All of the spectators, though, were fervently hoping not to be caught in a downpour.  Luckily for us, the rain held off just long enough.  As the trophies were handed out ( if you were wondering, the international school won the junior competition) it started to rain lightly and we hopped back in our blue land rover to drive back to Mweka before it could rain harder.  And so the rainy season has begun.


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