The British and Irish Lions are currently touring South Africa. This is a rugby tradition which dates back to 1888, though the first official tour dates back to 1910. Every four years, a team is chosen from players in the four counties which make up Great Britain: England Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This team of players have not played together, and they go to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on a four yearly rotational basis. This year the team includes players from the republic of Ireland, hence the British and Irish Lions tour. The lions will play 6 teams from the Super 14, as a warm up to their match with the Emerging Springboks (the second national team), and the final 3 'big' games against the Springboks, the South African national rugby team. Rugby is a religion in South Africa, and I believe we are pretty good at it! Moving to the US meant no more rugby as the satellite does not reach far enough. Sure there is Setanta sports, but only in certain parts of Boston. It was awful not watching the Euro 2008 last summer. We watched a few matches in our local pub, but it was not quite the same as following the whole thing. To add insult to injury, the Euro was held in Austria and Switzerland, and the stadium in Geneva is a stone's throw from our house.
Another point of suffering is not being able to watch Il Giro, Le Tour and other cycling events such as the 'Hell of the North' (Paris-Roubaix). None of these agonies though, compare to not being able to watch rugby of any kind.
Anyway, we finally found a pub open at 8am which was showing the rugby. So yesterday morning, bright and early, we found ourselves in the pub with a few other expats. The Lions were playing the Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein - the birthplace of Tolkein (yes, author of Lord of the Rings). The opening was terrible, and at the twentieth minute, the Lions were up 20 points. Stephen Ferris scored a try almost immediately. The Cheetahs struggled on, only managing 2 tries by half time, but it was still not enough to even things out.
The second half was equally painful to watch - the Cheetahs trying to score a try was a sight to behold. In all fairness though, the Lions looked more cohesive as a team, whilst the Cheetahs seemed scrappy to my eyes. Simple mistakes, fumbling the ball - the whole gamut of errors. Indeed, they looked like a group of schoolboys from a galaxy far far away that had never heard of rugby, let alone seen an oval ball. I hoped that this would end soon.
Finally it ended. Scores on the doors: Cheetahs 24-26 British and Irish Lions. The next match is on Wednesday against the Natal Sharks, in the shark tank (as the ABSA stadium is known). All 54 000 seats have been sold, so it should be a great atmosphere, and a terrific game. Unfortunately the game airs at 2pm US time, and I do not think my company will look favourably on me taking time off to go to the pub! Even though I am a hard core Cape Stormers supporter, in this case I will say, GO SHARKS!