We’re nearing the end of the term here at the Bing Overseas Oxford study abroad program, and I’d been feeling let down after the pitiful showing by Britain during the Winter Olympic Games. They finished the ceremonies in PyeongChang with only five medals to their name, a sad showing when compared to the prowess displayed by the United States and their 23 medals. I’ve been in England for seven weeks; I need to be nationalistic about something to truly feel a part of the culture here, and there’s no better way to display country pride than through sports! Then I wandered into a pub this past weekend and saw my new fellow countrymen cheering on an English rugby team.
Now make no mistake, I did not, and still do not, understand the rules of rugby whatsoever. My only exposure to the sport comes from hearing stories about my Dad playing at the Naval Academy, and my high school friend playing at Northeastern University, but I’d never taken the time to actually watch and see how the sport is played. I just assumed it to be more violent football without pads, which it kind of is, but in a far more nuanced fashion. But something about the sport, and more specifically the Six Nations Championship, has really captured my attention.
The premise is simple: six different nations (as the name suggests, duh) compete in a round robin rugby tournament over the course of five weeks, with each team playing one match per weekend. Home field advantage is earned throughout previous years and early rounds. The competitors are storied and passionate homes of rugby: England, France, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Ireland, all competing for the right to be crowned the European Champions. It’s like a more exclusive World Cup that happens every year, in February and early March, and it encourages national pride and sportsmanship. Personally, I think it’s amazing.
There is no championship playoff at the end; the team with the best record and the most accumulated points according to a ranking system goes down as the champion. And the reigning champions are none other than England, who, as a matter of national pride, I have decided to stand for the rest of the tournament.
I liken the entire experience to that of the World Cup for football (soccer). For three years and 10 months, I don’t care at all about men or women’s soccer in any capacity whatsoever. I barely know the rules, I definitely don’t know the strategy and I definitely don’t know any of the players, but the minute a team with red, white and blue jerseys comes out with USA emblazoned on their chests, I immediately become invested and NEED my team to take home a victory. I know that the ball goes in their net and shouldn’t go in ours, and hopefully Tim Howard will make that happen, but I don’t know much else. Wait what do you mean the men’s team didn’t qualify for the World Cup? How is that even possible? Trinidad and Tobago????
So when I’m watching the English rugby team narrowly lose 25-13 to Scotland, I’m invested because the people around me are invested, and I’m here, living and coexisting with all of them in England. Even though I have no idea how we’re gonna score 12 points and make up the difference, I have faith that we’ll do it anyway. And plus, we’re still in second place with wins against Italy and Wales, only one game back on Ireland with a massive match coming up against them on March 17. A repeat victory of the Six Nations Championship is all but guaranteed.
Sports are a funny way of bringing people together that you wouldn’t expect. Geographical loyalties and city pride abound in America, but in today’s global world, you can be a fan of any team from anywhere. What I’d like to see is this Six Nations concept applied to collegiate sports. How amazing would it be to see All Pac-12 teams squaring off against All Big-10 teams for one massive, unified grudge match in whatever sport. I actually want the Pac-12 to pool their best football players and have a game against the SEC, just to see what would happen. I’d love to see Jake Fromm running away from Vita Vea and Harrison Phillips at the same time. That’d be hysterical. And I could root for Josh Rosen to succeed for once!…Just kidding.
Until next week, enjoy it not snowing (seriously why is it snowing in Oxford in March?) and the still undefeated Stanford baseball team!
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at” stanford.edu