I was prepared to shell out the $35 for the prime (between the 22-meter lines, closer to center of the field) seats, but those were sold out, so we bought a couple of general-admission $25 seats. The gates hadn't opened yet, so we went and had lunch back across the street near where we'd parked. We were among the first to enter after the gates opened, so we had our pick of seats in the GA section, so we sat about ten rows up and near the north-end 22-meter line.
It was quite warm with the sun beating down on us, and little breeze and no prospect of shade. I applied a second coat of sunscreen, and a third at halftime; I appear to have avoided sunburn, but I felt a bit like a broiled steak out there in the stands.
Prior to kickoff, a group of young Irish dancers gave a little demonstration. I didn't pay much attention to the dancing, instead paying attention to the fine work on the (mostly girls') elaborate costumes.
As the 2 o'clock kickoff neared, the teams took to the pitch and lined up next to their respective flags. Ireland, because it is a combined team, has a special flag different from the flags of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The stands had filled up quite nicely, including a number of very obviously Irish supporters, such as a group kitted up in big green hats and shirts and beards (including the women) -- I call these groups the "please put me on TV" lot, but they are fun.
cherylmorgan called just before the anthems, asking where I was sitting, as she was watching the match back in England. I explained quickly, but had to hang up quickly as well, as they were about to start the music, so I didn't have time to explain to her that I was wearing the new USA Rugby jersey of white with blue trim rather than my old one of red with blue and white. It's not likely I would have ever been in shot anyway, not being surrounded by colorful pseudo-Irish.
Having been to the two previous matches, I knew that the anthems would be only the melodies, and was ready for it this time, so when "Ireland's Call" started, I began singing. I can't say I was the only one, and some of the people in the stands besides me actually knew the words, so it sort of spread. It's nothing like a home game in Ireland, though. I was displeased, however, with the oiks in the prime seating (a group all dressed in green and white and seated together, who acted like they'd been preparing for the match by drinking a lot) who were singing the song, but at a faster tempo than the melody being played over the loudspeakers, so they were off by a line or two. Sheesh.
Speaking of louts, another group of obvious Irish supporters (but probably Americans) rudely tried to shout down the NZ Haka, which incidentally was apparently a new version of the Haka composed specially for this event. This is very rude; the etiquette on this as I understand it is that you're supposed to be quiet and stand up to the challenge the Haka implies, and that it's bad form to jeer or react at all for that matter. The Irish team behaved correctly. It's their so-called supporters who need to be told to put a sock in it.
Incidentally, if I had to guess, I'd say the crowd was around two-thirds Ireland supporters. There were, however, plenty of NZ fans present, waving New Zealand flags, wearing All Blacks colours, and displaying "Go Maori" banners. Some of the people, like me, were just there to see a match between two good teams.
Anyway, the game finally got underway, and it was, as expected, a pretty good match; however, Ireland, while they threatened many times, seemed unable to finish their tries, while NZ were their expected spectacular selves, with long breakaways and well-finished tries. While we got to see a little bit of everything, including a drop-goal by Ireland early in the second half, it was clearly New Zealand who were dominating.
From our seats, we saw a number of plays up close, but there was one key play on the opposite side of the field where hardly anyone was seated about halfway through the second half. After a bit of milling around, the referee called some players over, reached into his pocket, and produced a red card. A direct red! But why? Everyone in our section of the stands started asking what happened, as none of us could see the incident that prompted sending off one of the players.
I had an idea. I whipped out my phone and called Cheryl. She answered, saying, "I thought I might be hearing from you."
"What did he do?" I asked.
She replied, "Head butt. No question about it."
"Aha!" I said, then pitched my voice so everyone around could hear, "He head-butted him!"
Everyone in my section of stands started nodding and saying, "Oh, okay, right" and so forth.
We got back to the game, and I explained to the people around us that yes, I'd just called the UK to get a replay on a situation that had happened about fifty meters away from us. Ah, the wonders of technology.
In the end, Ireland were unable to score any more points than the US had against the Maori, but were not destroyed by NZ the way the USA Eagles were. Final score was New Zealand Maori 27, Ireland A 6. (Link is to a news story about the match from American Rugby News.)
We had an opportunity for a bonus match, as the American semi-professional Rugby Super League played their championship game right after the Ireland-NZ match; unfortunately, Dave needed to get back to Fremont to help dinogrl tear down her classroom. From what I read, the RSL final was a much closer affair, with OMBAC scoring the winning try in injury time to defeat Belmont Shore, 36-33.
I'm glad that I was able to attend all three of the Churchill Cup games in the newly-expanded format. In previous years, only four teams played in the Churchill Cup, and all of the games were played in Canada. This year they expanded to six teams and played two sets of pools, one in the USA, before the final round in Edmonton. NZ Maori will play Scotland A for the Churchill Cup, while England and Ireland will play for the Plate and, as expected, USA and Canada, coming last in their respective pools, will contest for the Bowl.
Despite the home sides being dominated by the visitors, I'm glad to see the International Rugby Board and the sponsors of the Churchill Cup including the English Rugby Football Union taking an interest in developing rugby in North America. The only way the US and Canadian sides will improve is by playing better sides like this. I heard an announcement at the game that the same six sides will contest again next year. I'd be surprised if they come back to Santa Clara, only because I'd expect them to play somewhere else to give another city a chance to see the matches, but if they do come back to the Bay Area, I expect I'll make an effort to see the matches.
There will be more international rugby at Buck Shaw Stadium in a few weeks as the USA takes on Barbados in a Rugby World Cup qualifying match; unfortunately, it will be on July 1, and I'll be a bit busy in San Diego at the time.