Now signed in at a downtown Dunedin hotel, I felt guilty for not seeing through our backpacking agenda. This was cheating, I thought. Shacking up in a hotel didn’t seem right.
Then, things took a turn.
Entering the elevator we met a guy who looked like he could lift the elevator with one arm, while downing a protein drink with the other. After I smiled politely at him, expecting that would be the end of our chat, he asked us:
“Where you from?”
“Canada”, I replied, sticking to the abridged version rather than “We’re from 3 weeks of hostels, 50 cans of beans, and more granola bars than I remember eating in all of my elementary school lunches combined.”
“Aw, yeah. Long way then. Must be tired”, he responded.
“Yeah, long way. Pretty zonked”.
“Where you from?”, I asked, noting his neck was bigger than my pant leg.
“Originally from New Zealand. But living in Australia, part of a professional rugby club there. We’ve got a game tomorrow night here in Dunedin”, he said.
“Yes.”, I thought to myself. Dunedin was one of the spots around the country that had a professional rugby pitch, and a previous traveller we met said he watched a game here.
“Awesome. What time’s the game?”, I asked.
“Kickoff’s 730”, he replied.
“Cool. I think we’ll check it out”.
We then got off on our floor, wished him luck, and now had something to do in Dunedin.
I played rugby in high school, knew the basics of the game, but never been to a professional match, and had no idea what to expect.
Rose is 0 on both counts. “So, they throw the ball backwards, then run forwards?”.
As I explained that it could also be pretty rough, the game got underway and play moved directly in front of our seats.
Two opposing players leaped up for the ball after a kick. One came down with the ball. The other came down on his face and lay motionless on the ground.
Rose’s mouth dropped.”Oh my god. I think he’s really hurt”. I agreed. He had the lifelessness of someone who’d been knocked completely unconscious. In a best case scenario.
Then, as Rose and I sat stunned, staring at this guy, me wondering if he’ll ever walk again, while watching medics give him smelling salts and, undoubtedly, asking him what year it was and if he knew what sport he was playing, a big voice boomed out to our right:
GAAAAAAAAMMMMEEEEEE OOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNN! with no trace of irony.
Oh-kay. This was a professional rugby match.
The good news was that the motionless player walked off the field – presumably to have an MRI, or, if he was following the shouter’s advice, to “Feckin’ wok it aff, pansy”.
The game resumed, and I got pretty into it – except for understanding all the penalties the referee issued. Not a clue. But, we made sure to throw in the occassional: “AWWW. Are you kidding?” when they happened against the home team.
I also started to imitate the accent of another shouter a few rows behind us. From his appearance and tenor, I was sure he’d bashed a few heads as a younger man on the rugby pitch and seemed like he wouldn’t have been averse to snacking on an ear or two in a scrum.
Before every kick, he felt the lead up was excruciating and would angrily shout:
“COOOOOOOOMMMMEE OOOOONNNNNNNN!”, as if this was holding him up from catching a train to perform life-saving brain surgery.
While I got a kick out of him, Rose was watching another guy, who was getting progressively drunker, and would leave the aisle frequently (for more beer or to offload it in the bathroom?) – and when he’d return, would completely forget where he was sitting so he’d walk up and down the stairs for a minute or two until his friends would spot him, wandering aimlessly, and wave him over.
It must have happened five times. It was hilarious.
On the field – the good guys won, the home team: The Dunedin Highlanders.