You should be aware of a small matter of some of the world’s toughest nations pitting themselves against each other in the 2011 RWC (erm, Rugby World Cup). For countries that play the game (described as a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen) rugby is no small matter. Amongst the rugby-loving nations in the world, about five* of them are so passionate that it occupies the national psyche to such an extent that they inevitably small talk about little else. Two of these countries are Tonga and Fiji.
You will remember (despite the lack of blog posts to prove it) that we have been in Tonga and Fiji over the past month or so. Which means that we have watched a bunch of rugger games in various circumstances. A summary of the different games we have watched almost gives one an idea of how varied a month it has been.
Opening game: Tonga v NZ at Tonga Bobs, Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga
Laura, Stof and I had enjoyed such a gorgeous day in our own lagoon (with not another boat in sight) that we had laughed off the first race of the Vava’u regatta – virtually an unheard of idea for the Old Stoffie. But we were NOT going to miss the first game of the 2011 World Cup involving Tonga… in Tonga. We finally found a place to anchor in the crowded bay (many people watching rugger and participating in the regatta) by the light of the moon and chucked our stuff together and sped to shore. We chose to watch the game at Tonga Bobs because it would have lots of Tongans, and not just expats and yachties.
Highlights? The lady-guy barmaid dressed as a bride (fully). The cheap-as-chips adverts at half time for local business, including the shop that sold “KIKI-AISI”.** The try that the Tongans prevented in the second half. The try that they actually scored after about (whatfeltlike) 20 minutes of scrumming on the NZ 5m line. The general cheer of the Tongan crowd: they loved every minute… even when their team lost by an enormous margin.
Game 2: SA v Wales at Mango Bar, Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga
Big Deal! Two days later and you’re still in Neiafu, but you just moved down the road to another bar? Not really so. In between the Tonga-NZ and SA-Wales games, we competed in the full day race of the regatta (um, we lost***), attended a full moon party in superb super-luminal outfits and ensured we were among the last to leave, skinny dipped in the full moon, enjoyed a Tongan bbq on the beach, sailed back to Neiafu and gasped over a breath-taking whale display at sunset. By the time the three of us settled down at the only bar open on a Sunday night to watch SA’s first game in the RWC, we were exhausted and ready to see our team perform.
The bar was pretty empty: only about 6 tables were occupied. It was, after all, 9:30pm on the Sunday night after Vava’u's biggest annual party.
Quite simply, we were underwhelmed by South Africa’s performance. As I reported to some Kiwis the next day (who had hit their berths at a much more sane hour than we) Wales played like they would win the game… but somehow they didn’t. Lucky it was such a close match, otherwise we might have fallen asleep!
The tension the four (we met up with a friend from another boat) Bokke (erm, South Africa)supporters felt was heightened by the vociferous support of the locals for Wales. “Why?” we asked, “what’s so terrible about the Springboks?”. The guys laughed raucously and explained that Wales’ star player was in fact BORN in Vava’u. His birth, coupled with the fact that Wales, like Tonga, play in red jerseys, was enough for the Tongan’s to back Wales.
Game 3: SA v Fiji, Royal Suva Yacht Club, Suva, Fiji
We gave rugger a break for a week while we sailed across from Tonga to Fiji. It was a dreamy crossing. Stof and I loved having Laura May on board to share the watches, and the weather and sea were suitably kind to her (and all of us). We deliberately timed our arrival in Fiji’s capital city with the day of the South Africa v Fiji game.
We managed to scuttle the various customs and health officials through that afternoon so that we could shower and draw money in time to watch the Big Game. Fiji felt a-buzz and we were glad that the officials had visited us BEFORE, rather than after, the clash between the two sides. Although they all seemed friendly, these Fijians are not small people.
We had heard it would be fun to watch the game at the Royal Suva Yacht Club. This was lucky because we are anchored in front of the RSYC. The rumours could not have been better founded: the RSYC was PUMPING with locals, expats, yachties and even another whole table of South Africans living in Suva! We also met the SA high commissioner and his wife and we had an awesome time cheering our team. In the beginning, the cheering was very balanced. Then the Bokke played like the champions they are and the scoreline moved towards the final score of 49-3. Then the crowd became pretty quiet, except for the tables of Saffas who were lead by the high commissioner (in fabulous baritone) in a rather impressive rendition of “Shosholoza”.**** It was a fun game to watch, but even we really wished that Fiji had scored another point. At least.
We were having so much fun we even hung around and enjoyed the thumping of Australia by Ireland which meant that BOTH of my passports were victorious in one evening. Coupled with the fact that I had won most of the rounds of cards earlier that day while waiting for customs et al to arrive, I felt very lucky indeed. (Actually, when the officials arrived at the boat, I was the one who greeted them and there was a little sea snake swimming around the boat. “Look!” they said, “Sea snakes are very lucky.” And they were right…)
Game 4: France v NZ, Manua’s House, Dravuni Island, Great Astrolabe Reef, Fiji
By the time we arrived in the islands after enjoying a few more days in Suva (FANTASTIC curries and the friendliest people we have yet met) and collecting our friends Dave and Rejane to stay on Taks as well, we had realised that the Fijian’s don’t hold a grudge. In fact, I think that most people we met became even warmer once they heard we were South African. Considering how jolly friendly these people are, that is saying buckets.
For example: we arrived in the Great Astrolabe reef for a few days of snorkeling and enjoying some of the most untouched islands in the South Pacific. Usually, one should present oneself to the chief of each village bearing a gift of kava and he gives you permission to swim and use the beaches etcetera. However, we had slipped into the pass rather late that evening (light winds) and we decided to anchor next to a small deserted island. The next day we realised how idyllic it was and decided to proceed to the island where the chief lived only the next morning. When a boat with two strapping Fijians approached us at around midday, however, we worried that we might have offended the local customs.
Our fears were completely unfounded and we soon struck up a friendship with a man called Manua (and his cousin Ivanii). Manua gave us papaya and coconuts and arranged to take us spear fishing the next day (after we had met the chief). After spending a day spearing with him (Stof and Dave) or snorkeling and enjoying the coral (Sara, Laura and Rejane), Manua became our firm friend. That evening when we arrived at the beach to set up a beach braai, we found that Manua had collected the wood, cooked us some cassava and donated even more fruit. He also invited us to his home that evening to watch NZ thump France once we had finished on the beach. He later revealed that South Africa was the team he was backing for the whole Cup, so we gave him some supporter’s regalia and left feeling like we had enjoyed an amazing interaction.
Game 5: SA v Samoa, Cubar, Skylodge Hotel, Nadi, Fiji
The game between SA and Samoa took place on the Friday night before Laura and DavenRejane started their journeys home (Saturday and Sunday respectively). After the Astrolabe Reef, we travelled up to Malolo Lailai in the Mamanuca chain for a couple of days before bringing our friends into the main tourist town to catch their flights home.
We looked marvellous: even Dave wore a rugby supporters top (without holes!) and we attracted many hoots as the five of us marched down the road in uniform. The place where we watched the SA/Samoa game was chosen quite by chance. We wanted to eat some quality curry and Cubar was the nearest place to watch once we had enjoyed our meal at Maharajas. The “crowd” was “interesting”. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in passion. While one might think that the local support would be firmly behind their South Pacific neighbours, people seemed rather split between the Bokke and Samoa. We soon discovered that betting is big business in Fiji and there were a number of people in the bar with cash riding on a South African victory.
At first it seemed like a sure thing. The SA supporters (i.e. not us) danced wildly, the Samoan supporters swore vociferously. Then Samoa kicked back in the second half and looked very much like they might upset the World Champions (erm, South Africa). It was tense. Very tense. We were just relieved that the loudest and most fanatical of the Samoan supporters passed out shortly after half time. Somehow SA managed to hold out and the five actual South Africans were urged to stand up and sing their national anthem. We sang, payed for our drinks and bolted before it became even crazier in there.
Game 6: Fiji v Wales, Port Denerau Marina, Nadi, Fiji
And now? Now Fiji is about to play Wales. We said goodbye to Laura yesterday and Dave and Rejane today and Takalani is feeling rather empty. We are moored just off the tourist humdrum of Nadi (which is saying a LOT… this place is a tourist sausage factory), which is not fabulous, but they have a big screen and we’re hoping our local side might provide a surprise victory while we console ourselves with an icy bottle of Fiji Gold.
* Five is a random number, ok? Please don’t expect me to engage in a discussion of which are the really rugger-crazy nations. I just can’t.
** KIKI-AISI sounds a lot like kick arse. But it actually means frozen meat in Tongan!
*** Not really going to say too much more about that. Husband does not like to think about the first time he lost a sailing race. In his life. Ever.
**** Traditional SA rugby song of happy supporters.