82,000 people attended the opening match of Fiji versus England at Twickenham Stadium for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. While that electrifying atmosphere cannot easily be emulated, a more authentic one at home, consisting of three Fijian family generations engaged in front of a pixelatedly-challenged television created a whole new realm of a sporting experience.
Torn between the English rose and the Fijian coconut tree, I watched in silence out of respect for the game, for my Fijian family, and for my current lack of knowledge for the sport (my brother told me that if you don’t fully understand the rules, then keep your mouth shut until you do). Since this game, however, my silence transformed into loud cheer, enthused banter between volunteers and the family grew, and I gained so much in rugby knowledge that my enthusiasm for the tournament soared.
As with any international sporting competition, the rugby world cup was alight with dazzling skill, devoted chanting fans, and the odd controversy to headline a newspaper, or moments of comedy and absurdity to inspire memes. Growing up in a soccer nation, and one that is renown for being brutal in both its support and humiliation of teams and individual players in its media, as well as jeering and even violence against opposing or rival teams, it was refreshing to witness how Fijians enjoy sport.
Rugby as a sport, is a great advocator of teamwork, undeniable athleticism and critically, discipline on an international stage. Therefore, the world is watching how you represent yourself. In this corner of the world, Fiji’s display of support for their hometeam never fell short. Usually, picking up a newspaper and reading the sports pages can be tiresome, as something that should be pure such as sport is now fraught with scandal, money and ego. The newspapers in Fiji analysed the sport for what it is, and moved on to the next game. The fun is kept within the spirit of the game, and the pressure of performance falls evenly on each player and not on the shoulders of one.
Highlights? The southern hemisphere dominated this cup (some bitterness about the last minute decision between Australia and Scotland...), England made history by being the first host nation to fail to make it into the quarter finals (trying not to linger on this!), the destined match between New Zealand and France (same stadium, same but later changed referee), Japan beating semi-finalists South Africa in the group stages, Sonny Bill Williams (All Blacks/ New Zealand) warmed hearts by giving his winners medal away to a devoted fan, and back here at home at Brown Street the legacy of the rugby world cup lives on with the christening of three kittens with rugby player names.
Though at first i was somewhat sad to not have been around such an incredible tournament on home soil, and with rugby growing as a sport internationally who knows when it will next return to England, but being in a huge rugby nation that is Fiji completely made up for it. Also, being in ‘The Group of Death’ (Group A) did not stop Fiji’s rugby fever. Being in Fiji helped restore purity (in my mind) for sport, as well as how to not be a bad loser. Something many, many people could learn from!
Till the next world cup in Japan, 2019. Toso the coconut trees and the roses.