Archipelagos Aim Up On Either Side Of Lunch At Meakin Park (Scientist Argues Polynesian Playmakers Most Likely Key To Inter-temporal Travel, Conceeds Limited Application Of Research)
Kings and Queens of Pacific Rugby Tournament; Logan City Rugby Club, Meakin Park; 23/11/2013
“They never seem to forget that they’re playing, nor that the beautiful side of a true sporting contest is that nothing’s ever really at stake. In other words, they take rugby easy.”
Report by G + T (Scott Gittoes & Nicholas Turner)
It’s an early dusk. A thick broth of Queensland humidity has stewed into dark and brooding cloud. The first swollen drops thud against spectators’ umbrellas and rainjackets. Distant thunder murmurs. It’s all that dares disturb the silence; a group of twenty or so Samoans, a couple of tonnes worth at least, are huddled tight near the centre of Logan City Rugby Club’s main field. They drop to one knee, heads bowed, encircling a solitary figure who remains standing. He’s glaring, fierce and intent. Across the halfway line, fifteen paces away at most, the Fijians catch his stare. They’re gripping each other’s white jerseys, shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a tightly thatched wall of humanity; virtually watertight. The Samoan protagonist pauses, sets his feet firm, pauses again. In one razor-sharp action, he lets out a multisyllabic call to arms, spearing his right fist into an open hand. The kneeling blue jerseys rise, unfurl into a phalanx and creep forward, hissing occasionally. From the sideline, their first collective eruption brings on a familiar and yet never-less-than awesome feeling for a rugby fan. So begins an expertly choreographed Pacific Island wardance; here, the Samoan ‘Siva Tau’.
Six such dances are performed this afternoon by men’s teams representing Queensland communities of Samoan, Fijian, Tongan, Cook Islands, Niue and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islands heritage. Across three consecutive Saturdays these teams are vying, together with an equal compliment of women’s teams, to be crowned the ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ of Pacific Rugby. The talent here is rich, a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Brisbane’s Premier and First Grade familiars. In only its second year, this tournament already has a premature air of being well established, drenched in tradition and pride. The final fixture of today, between Queensland Samoa and Brisbane Fiji, is the weekend’s showcase contest, and with modified rules including no penalty goals, it’s bound to be a free-running spectacle.
It’s curious that the game of rugby, an esoteric sport invented in isolation ten-thousand-odd miles from the South Pacific Ocean, could not have been more suitably scripted for that region’s inhabitants. Pacific Islanders’ proportional dominance of the fifteen-man code is a genuine phenomenon; not so much because of the success of their national teams (for obvious justification of which, refer: population, GDP and funding), but more so their overwhelming presence on the rosters of local, representative and professional teams worldwide. Watching a bunch of Polynesian kids toss around a ball on the sideline, one could be forgiven for suggesting that their rugby prowess is entirely innate. I almost choke on my ‘bula burger’ when a boy barely out of diapers throws a deftly accurate bullet pass with one hand, behind his back. Combined with an obvious natural size advantage and a warrior spirit, this instinctive flair with all things oval ball pretty much completes the major box-ticking where usefulness on a rugby field is concerned. The brutality of the opening exchanges in today’s final match is evidence enough; the bone-rattling intensity will barely recede all game. (It’s telling that Samoa’s most capped international is nicknamed “the Chiropractor”).
The Samoan fly-half out there today is slightly built in comparative terms, which is to say he is perhaps somewhat larger than your average man. But he is the virtual embodiment of that aforementioned instinctive flair. Behind a pack chewing up advantage-line yards like a coal-mining longwall, this kid is a deadly cocktail of pinpoint accuracy and prescient game sense. For long passages of play, his relationship to the taunted defence is that of a curious, magnifying-glass-bearing child to ant on a driveway. An early punt sails every metre of fifty and maybe a little more, on the fly, cross-field. From the ensuing lineout the Samoans notch their first points. Soon thereafter, looping outside an impromptu backline move, the wizardly fly-half toes a crafty worm-burner infield to find a fast-moving teammate diving for a finger-tip try. By halftime, the men in blue are up three tries to zip. And yet despite the obvious impact of the number ten, the Samoan dominance is really due a team performance of ruthless go-forward that’s earned them the priceless rugby commodities of space and time. The shell-shocked Fijians have spent twenty minutes flat-footed or else back-peddling, and without so much as a passage of play to call their own.
We arrived earlier in the day to find that all tournament play is suspended for a designated midday lunch-break. A full hour and a half is set aside to feast; these are some almighty engines to fuel:
At the southern end of the main field, a row of at least ten separate stalls are vending all manner of traditional and not-so-traditional fare – generous, protein-rich portions. We opt for a ‘hangi’, crammed with three meat and five veg, together with a ‘bula burger’ and a few ‘keke’ (Tongan donuts), leaving behind the raw fish and mussel fritter sandwiches for the enjoyment of those with more seasoned palates. A grassy knoll is the perfect place to unpack the hangi and soak up some atmosphere.
Clusters of relatives, running the trunk and very thinnest limbs of family trees, mill around on straw mats. Patriarchs and matriarchs oversee their kin, conspicuous among the troupes. Packs of young Polynesian men and women relax together in the shadows of the gum-treed fringes if not the designated team tents, clowning around, all smiles. A rugby carnival is a perfect excuse to assemble these communities. Even far away from island homes these cultures evidently retain much tradition; an incredible number of tribal tattoos are on display today. As we survey teams warming-up for the next fixture, a group of hulking lads – boots still on, perspiration fresh from the contest – wander by in sarongs. One out of three is wearing an American basketball singlet, which is fairly representative of the young male contingent. (Wade, James and Pippen are held in particularly high esteem.)
There’s something special about the Islander affinity for the game of rugby that is out there to be seen even when play is suspended. The good ‘spirit’ of the contest, the playfulness of sport, must be surely be linked to the way they seem to approach life, or else the way they just are. The way they seamlessly break into song and dance without a moment’s inhibition, the rhythmic swagger with which they move from A to B. (E.g. At any given moment today, at least 15% of the gathered peoples will be laughing, another 10% singing and/or dancing to the eclectic mix of calypso/reggae/hip-hop/R&B/Latin-folk/afrobeat/90s-club emanating from the clubhouse.) If it’s true to say that the Islanders know how to ‘take life easy’, then this is also how they play rugby. They rarely niggle or personalise the contest. They rarely get flustered or narky. They never seem to forget that they’re playing, nor that the beautiful side of a true sporting contest is that nothing’s ever really at stake. In other words, they take rugby easy.
And perhaps that’s got something to do with them being so unusually good at it.
Back in the feature match, the Fijians have earned themselves some possession and are starting to really throw it around. Aside from the frequent, gasp-worthy smack of body on massive body (something like a blunt-axe striking old-growth timber), there’s little noise on the field. Players on both sides just seem to know where to go – what channel to defend, what line to run. Time has a habit of slowing down when Islanders have the ball in hand.
Whilst Fiji now has some momentum, the Samoans’ defence is as staunch as their first half attack. The men in white have busied the scorer but the tide, albeit slowed, is still running the same way. With only a whisper of time left, a Samoan clearing kick rolls into touch just shy of the corner post, the result all but assured.
After the final whistle, both teams come together in a single huddle. Arm-in-arm. Between the sheer declaration of war and this quiet reconciliation, we have witnessed sport as culture.
Match Day Hangi Score: 8.0
MDH Service Atmosphere: 8.0
MDH Price: $10
Match Day Score: Queensland Samoa 28 def. Brisbane Fiji 7
The Grand Final will be played Saturday, 30 November at 3.30pm, Logan City Rugby Club, Meakin Park, 200 Queens Road, Slacks Creek.
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