5 Things More Important Than The Final Score of USA vs. NZ
Less than two weeks until kickoff of the historic rugby match between USA and New Zealand and the buzz is steadily building. For the third time in the last 100 years, the All Blacks will make the trip onto U.S. soil for what the official promotional video calls “the greatest sporting nation on earth vs. the most dominant rugby team of all time.”
Those who follow rugby in the southern hemisphere have certainly seen how the All Blacks have played as of late, and those who follow rugby stateside know the world rank of the Eagles is much lower than the Kiwis. Despite a final minute loss to the Springboks this past weekend in The Rugby Championship, the All Blacks have been playing incredibly well. Even the most optimistic of Eagles’ supporters know November 1st will be the toughest test the team has ever faced. That being said, here are five things to get excited about regardless of the final score of the All Blacks vs. Eagles matchup.
- The traditional Maori Haka is a sight to behold. It is one of the most iconic pre-game rituals in all of sports and instantly recognized by anyone familiar with rugby. The All Blacks are the only national team who give the tradition the proper treatment. The All Blacks sevens team occasionally does the Haka after winning a tournament on the HSBC series, but they’ve been beaten in the finals of the Las Vegas Sevens two years in a row. In similar fashion, the New Zealand national rugby league team does the haka as well, but have not had a stage in America on which to perform it. It is safe to say that the haka, as performed by the All Blacks, has only been showcased a handful of times on U.S. soil. This may be one of the only chances that those in attendance at the match will get to see this tradition performed live. Watch a recent haka here: LINK.
The haka is a ceremonial dance used in many occasions. The All Blacks have used it to intimidate their opponents for decades.
Soldier field at maximum capacity
- This is important for several reasons. There are few stadiums I’d rather see rugby played in than Soldier Field, even as a die-hard Green Bay Packer fan. Soldier Field itself has a listed capacity of 61,500 but with standing room and on-field areas, there will be around 65,000 people in the stadium on gameday. This eclipses the largest crowd for a rugby match in the U.S. by tens of thousands of fans. In fact, the largest three-day attendance total of the Las Vegas Sevens just barely surpasses this one day attendance.
Solider Field’s listed capacity is 61,500. This match will nearly triple the highest attendance total at a rugby match in the US.
- Richie McCaw is an All Blacks legend. The three-time World Player of the Year and All Blacks captain has been a force in rugby union at the international level as well as his Super 15 club, the Crusaders. He is regarded as the best open-side flanker in the world and one of the best overall rugby players in the game. There has been a lot of chatter recently about his possible retirement after the Rugby World Cup in 2015. That means this could be the only chance we’ll get to see him play on U.S. soil. If you don’t know who McCaw is, check out this video and start getting excited: The Richie McCaw Facts
McCaw poses with the Webb Ellis Cup after New Zealand’s victory in the Rugby World Cup 2011.
The rest of the All Blacks
- While Richie McCaw is undoubtedly his own item on this list, that doesn’t mean he’s the only All Blacks player worth mentioning. Even without Ma’a Nonu, who broke his forearm and still played ten minutes before subbing off, the All Blacks roster reads like an All-Star team of southern hemisphere rugby. Dan Carter is always a big draw and the likes of Julian Savea and Israel Dagg will surely add excitement. In the forwards, big no. 8 Kieran Read and 100-cap hooker Keven Mealamu lead a host of notable names. And of course, the announcement that Sonny Bill Williams will rejoin the All Blacks for the northern tour is big enough to get any rugby fan excited.
The All Blacks win percentage is around 75%…in their entire history. They rarely lose because they have skill at every position.
Host city Chicago
- Rugby culture in Chicago is also alive and thriving. The Chicago Area Rugby Football Union lists 40 active clubs in its Local Area Union. A handful of these clubs are within 5-10 minutes of Soldier Field. Some of these clubs were also founded decades ago and are competitive on the national club level. The social scene in Chicago is sure to match the energy of the match as well. There are international airports not far from the stadium which can handle all of the traffic associated with an international rugby match and the public transportation system should be adequate enough to alleviate parking and traffic near the stadium. The only downside is that visitors will no longer be able to stop by Hot Doug’s.
Chicago will be a great host city for this historic match.
So remember, the final score isn’t necessarily the most important factor in determining the success or failure of this match. The Eagles have stayed mostly in the mid to high teens in terms of ranking, while the All Blacks have been the best rugby team in the world for quite a few years. A better way to judge the impact of this match is by gauging the interest of the fans, critiquing the national TV coverage and measuring how this match will help grow the game of rugby in the United States both by fostering more interest in the sport and by placing it on a national stage for all of us to enjoy.