Rugby: The Nation's Game
From the tip of the North Island to depths of the South Island, rugby is ingrained into the Kiwi lifestyle
They practice at Jack Reid Park, the mountains enclosing them on all sides as they run at each other. Men, ranging in age from 17 to 45, hurl orders as they run through practice drills. The plays are muscle memory, ingrained in them from the early ages of 5 and 7.
A man rides by on a bike and stops for a while, watching the Arrowtown Bulls as they practice.
In New Zealand, they don’t just play rugby, they live rugby. They live it from childhood when they cheer for the All Blacks, the national team. They live it through posters of Richie McCaw, the All Blacks’ famous captain. They live it through black-and-white films of yesteryear’s games.
“It’s pretty close to our national identity,” said Amy Wilson-White, who helps run the Arrowtown Rugby Club. “If you ask a New Zealander what makes a New Zealander, a good portion of them will say, ‘I follow the All Blacks.’ It’s a strong part of our national identity and pride as well. We’re a tiny little country, but we’re the best at rugby.”
Rugby binds the country and its cities’ citizens together. On a Saturday in Arrowtown, it isn’t uncommon to find most residents at the local rugby club’s match.
Even youth rugby draws its fair share of fans.
“The families are really involved,” she said. “We love the kids to carpool, but that never happens because the whole family wants to come watch their kid play rugby. It’s really passionate stuff even though there’s just little five year olds running around.”
Wilson-White got involved in the club when her children wanted to play rugby, but the sport has been a part of her all her life. Her father coached rugby. Her brother graduated from the Queenstown fields to playing semi-professionally in Hong Kong.
“As a mother, it’s pretty heart-wrenching, and you’re quite nervous,” she said. “You see them listen and learn and tackle properly with technique and learn sportsmanship as well. It’s not just about being a good player, it’s about being a good member of the rugby community.”
Aidan Winters has been with the Bulls for the past decade and has served as team captain for several years. Winters said he tries to lead by example. Rugby has been a part of his life since he was seven years old.
“It is New Zealand, isn’t it?” he said. “Rugby is life. Everyone grows up with it.”