As the Hurricanes held off the Chiefs on Friday night, Scotty Stevenson had a chance to reflect on the simple joy of watching a game.
This is how it began on Friday night in Wellington: Hurricanes openside flanker Sam Henwood was knocked into next week by Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown, Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris was put on his backside by Hurricanes fullback Jordie Barrett, and the respective first fives, Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie both made dominant tackles on men twice their size. It was patently obvious that this was going to be a night for defence.
It was more obvious still because I was sitting on an old blue couch in the bowels of Westpac Stadium watching the game with my two work colleagues Mils Muliaina and Cory Jane and they were making these observations free of the emotion they once must have had as players. It was as if I was sitting in a coaches box, or behind the illusionists curtain. If you ever get a chance to watch a rugby match with two of the finest back three players in recent memory, I suggest you take it.
I’ve watched rugby with lots of people. I watched rugby a lot with my dad. Dad was a fan of the game but watched every match with his emotions on a sliding scale from frustration at the referees to anger at the referees. In between these two extremes was an extended line of grumbling. I loved watching games with him, and then discussing the finer points of the law and its application. We watched his last game together. It was the Reds against the Bulls. He fell into a coma and never recovered.
I’ve watched rugby with my mum. Mum watches rugby by pacing around her house, and burns at least six thousand calories during a typical All Blacks match. Mum is South African by birth but long ago pledged allegiance to New Zealand. Upon the final whistle, Mum will immediately start to analyse the game, though her analysis often lacks some detail as she has spent at least twenty minutes of every game hiding behind a sofa. This fact does not dissuade her from lecturing me on what exactly happened. She is still South African in so many ways.
I’ve watched rugby with my children. When the All Blacks are playing they will watch the haka, and then take their leave, returning periodically to check on the score. They are what you might call fringe fans. They are like this with all sports. But they play musical instruments so I am totally down with that.
I once took my wife to a game. It was the 2009 Ranfurly Shield match between Southland and Canterbury at AMI Stadium. We sat in some form of corporate seating alongside Todd Blackadder and Corey Flynn, who was injured and unable to play. Southland won the match and the shield in a 9-3 thriller. My wife had no idea what had happened. It had been 50 years since the Stags had lifted the Log o’ Wood so I launched into an enthusiastic dissertation on the importance of the moment. But then I saw her eyes glaze over. I have seen that look many times since.
I have sat alongside some of the greats in the commentary box over the years. I remember my first call with Stu Wilson in Masterton. Hell he was fun to watch a game with. There have been so many others, each with their own take on the sport we love. I have learned so much, and had many laughs. I worked with Murray Mexted. I still remember a provincial game in Pukekohe many years ago. There was about fifteen minutes to go and Mex stood up, removed his headphones, told me he had a flight to catch, and left. I giggle about that still.
I’ve watched from the stands and from the corporate suites, from the nosebleeds and from the sidelines, but it’s not the view that matters; it’s who you get to watch with. And on Friday night I watched the game with Mils and Cory and minute by minute they dissected the game, and pointed out the plays and made notes to themselves to take back to their respective coaching jobs – Cory with the Wellington Lions and Mils with the Grammar Tec Club in Auckland.
And Mils said the Chiefs need to hold the ball a little more and they would have a chance to work their way back into the game, but they couldn’t hold onto the ball and, afterward on the field, Chiefs co-Captain Sam Cane spoke to us about how winning their last stretch of games had made it easy to overlook the fact that their handling had not been up to scratch. Cory said the Hurricanes will shut them down and then find a way to create a couple of tries out of nothing. And that’s pretty much how things went down, with a few more bumps and bruises along the way. Afterwards, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd told us that it was a night for defence and that it was not the greatest spectacle for the fans.
The fans wouldn’t have minded. They just wanted the Hurricanes to win, and that’s exactly what they did. On the back of their defence, which is what will get them to the final. The fans wouldn’t have minded. They were there to watch the game.
This story originally ran on RugbyPass.com – the premier destination for rugby fans in Asia, streaming International Test Matches including The Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and more to your device wherever you are in Asia.