In general, France is crazy about le football, that is soccer, but during the past few weeks we, and the rest of France, have become engaged by le rugby, the sport played with la ballon ovale (the oval ball). We watched several televised games in the Rugby World Cup tournament, paying attention to French and New Zealand teams as they advanced through the rounds to the final game. We had the amazing opportunity to spend the past weekend with two French families (more on that in a future post), and together we watched the Sunday morning finale de la coupe du monde de rugby (the rugby world cup final). Alas, the All Blacks of New Zealand beat Les Bleus (the blues) of France, 7-8.
We've learned a great deal about rugby, although we can't say we fully understand it yet. The terminology is all new: scrums, flyhalfs and touches (and the French equivalents!), and the rules still baffle us, but what we have come to understand is that rugby is a sport that fosters a great deal of camaraderie among teammates. The teams sang their national anthems with such gusto, and they seemed to be really excited to be playing each game, which was refreshing given how many professional athletic teams these days seem to approach their games rather mechanically, as jobs that have to be performed. In fact, the New Zealand team has an unusual ritual called haka before its games that is meant to show its team spirit and its fierceness to its opponents. We were greatly amused by the arm movements and tongue-wagging associated with the Kapa O Panga haka. Usually, the opponent team stands in a line staring hard at the All Blacks' ritual, but in the final game, France's team decided to join arms and began walking towards the All Blacks, creating an arrow formation which was much remarked on in the international press, French and otherwise. (See New York Times article: "For New Zealand, a Rugby World Cup on Home Soil," By Emma Stoney, Oct. 23, 2011 http://nyti.ms/mOAhrZ)