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Written By: Karen Gasbarino-Knutt
Many rugby fans in North America don’t just watch their home nations or regional rugby. If that were the case, in many instances we would be bereft of rugby for months at a time. Instead, we supplement our viewing with rugby from abroad: Super Rugby from down south, Top 14 from France, Premiership in England, and more.
Another way we supplement our enjoyment of the game is through following players, teams, and other aficionados on social media.
It’s in this place that we can see how teams celebrate the hoisting of the coveted cup, an unexpected away win, or the much-needed morale boost to potentially turn their season around. Or even to stay at the top of the table.
Whatever the cause for celebration, each player and each team has their own ways of revelling in their victory. And some interesting traditions. Yes, they do actually share a drink out of the cup.
It’s only a glimpse we get as viewers. We aren’t privy to the relevance of the post-match celebrations. We don’t comprehend that it’s a massive part of the rugby culture, reserved for players. And it isn’t just for the winning team.
What we as rugby fans get to see glimpses of are the biggest, most public, highest echelon celebrations.
Of note, Scotland, not having won the prestigious and hotly coveted Calcutta Cup since 2008, enjoyed the company of family, team staff, supporters, and teammates alike, singing Flower of Scotland at their celebration, and sharing pints and champagne out of the cup all evening long. In attendance were celebrated retired players and politicians; they drank from the cup as well. Notably, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admits to sipping champagne from the cup.
Considering the Calcutta Cup had not resided north of Hadrian’s Wall for a decade, by all accounts the celebrations in Edinburgh and throughout the country were boisterous and befitting the end of their drought, but well-behaved and good-natured. I don't imagine many Scots felt very well the next morning. I have seen at least 4 pictures of Grieg Laidlaw, in different venues (and including the post-match presser) drinking from the Calcutta Cup. I can’t imagine he relished Sunday morning overly.
The Calcutta Cup victory for Scotland is the pinnacle of celebration. But, in actual fact, teams of every size from grassroots on-up rejoice following each and every match. They get together and exalt their own team and each other for getting out there in all kinds of weather and conditions and getting a good 80 minutes in. More often than not, the opposing team is part of the celebration, though admittedly, not likely a big cup win such as the Calcutta Cup.
It is mandated as an unwritten rule of the game. It is part of the culture. It is even expected. Visiting teams will be treated to hometown hospitality at the clubhouse or local. Laughter and camaraderie will ensue. The rivalries and handbags will be left on the pitch.
It’s one thing to win the match; it’s quite another to “win” the social as well.
It is this aspect of the rugby culture that is different from most other sports – the art of the post-match. It isn’t just a North American or English tradition. It exists the world over, and it’s often the same; It is a club custom that extends beyond borders and boundaries and even language.
Opposing teams will gather post-match and sit together and have a drink (or many) and a laugh (or many). Each team will name an opposing side most valuable player of the match, and the two winners will go head to head in what is called the “boat race.”
The boat race, for the uninitiated, is a drinking game. Specifically, a beer drinking game. It’s played the world over, mostly by rugby players, and usually the same way. Members of both teams – especially team captains and the afore-mentioned MVP’s – will go head to head and drink a pint as fast as they can, showing they have finished by turning their pint glass upside down over their heads before placing it back on to the table. Or, rather, slamming it back onto the table in victory.
It’s not customarily played until competitors can no longer string together a sentence or are falling-down drunk. But it is a great way to break whatever ice is left back on the pitch and turn the discussion toward other aspects of life. It’s a way of leaving the animosity and building the brotherhood.
The tradition of playing host to visiting opposition is very much part of what makes rugby the Gentleman’s Game, and it goes back to the very roots of rugby. It doesn’t have to include a pint. The idea is that the two teams sit together mingling, talking, sharing. In most cases, it’s expected that the players will show up, honour the other team, and thank them.
Players will tell you that it’s only by having an actual conversation with your opponent, sans kit, cleats, and mouthguard, that you can tell who this person is. What they stand for. It’s how you earn respect for one another. You’re likely, after all, to meet again. More than that, you may find yourself at some point on the same team with one another, such as a regional team or if you’re very lucky, an international one.
The bigger the club, the more elaborate the post-match traditions. Some require the full team suit be worn. Some teams offer gifts, especially to touring teams who have travelled from afar.
When Rugby Canada hosts an international team, they have dinners and post-match celebrations, including songs, shirt exchanges, and small gifts from home (a great stand-by for any Canadian is anything maple). Likewise, the team they are hosting will honour the home-team with a song, poem, or hymn. National teams in Wales rehearse as a choir in four-part harmony, much as the Kiwis practice the Haka to perform for the other team. There will be a lot of laughs on both sides, regardless of which team won. Teams will mix, opposite numbers will often swap jerseys, and talk will be of travel plans, life ambitions, or family, but rarely about the proceeding 80 minutes.
It’s of utmost importance to respect one another off the field. It makes a massive difference on it.
Those are the values of rugby. It’s another way our game stands out.
The gentleperson’s game. The world needs more rugby.