In what might be the most exciting thing to happen at Soldier Field all year, the USA Eagles Men's Rugby Team (no. 18) will tomorrow face the New Zealand All Blacks (no. 1) at a sold-out Soldier Field. It's the largest international rugby match ever to take place on American soil, and to some, signifies America's revitalized interest in the sport.
To get a sense of what new American fans can expect, I got a crash-course in the sport from local rugby guru Norm Smyth of nascent club network Beach Rugby America. Your burning questions answered, below.
So. What is rugby again?
Fair question. Rugby was derived from soccer and gave way to American football, so there are similarities to both. "It was invented in the 1820s by a bored footballer who decided to pick up the ball and run with it," says Smyth. "That's where the touchdown in American football comes from. In rugby, you have to actually touch the ball to the ground in the end zone, not just cross the line with it."
Neat. What should I expect in tomorrow's match?
"Fast-paced, non-stop action," says Smyth, and it doesn't help that the rules are pretty complex. You can read the International Rugby Board's laws here, but Smyth bets the American sportscasters will explain the game's intricacies as they go.
Sportscasters, eh? Where can I watch?
NBC coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with kickoff at 3:00 p.m. If you're feeling thirsty, there are a number of rugby bars (Fado, Black Rock) and team–sponsored parties who'll have the match on (Smyth's camp will be at Reggies in South Loop before and after the game).
Will the tailgating be crazy?
It certainly won't be tame, but Smyth bets long-distance travel will keep most restrained to bars. "There are about 15,000 people involved with rugby in Chicago, which means 45,000 traveling from elsewhere. Most people won't have a car to set up their own tailgate."
Do we stand a chance at winning?
No. "The spread is 58 and a half," says Smyth, "and the All Blacks didn't even bring all their starters." That said, Smyth bets USA's shot at the 2016 Olympics will boost esteem for rugby in America, which in turn will boost desire to play and new talent.
Any traditions I should be aware of?
Don't be surprised if you hear some singing."Singing is a huge part of rugby," says Smyth. "There are tons of rugby songs. And it's tradition, at least in American clubs, to host the opposing team and throw a social event. The camaraderie is so different than in other sports, because you socialize with the other team." There you have it: Don't start any brawls.