Disptaches from the Front: Bowling and Traditions.

The joy of preparedness can best be measured by a successful execution of an action. That being said, my lack of charting our actual trip has led to so pretty glaring omissions so please bare with me as I will occasionally sprinkle in some off topic musings and details.

Before I launch into the retelling of possibly one of the best touring event and hosting ceremonies (no, festivities just wouldn’t be the right word) ever, I was reminded by a subtle knocking on the iron plate in my head that I had forgotten to mention our side sojourn to Palmerston North. Sir John Cleese (of Monty Pyton fame) was once quoted as saying “If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick”.

The city itself boasts the National Rugby Museum of New Zealand and the world renowned IRANZ (International Rugby Academy). For some addtional fun facts about “Palmy” see here. The main purpose for our brief visit (besides those that were able to sneak away to the Harley Davidson store), was to take in the highly popular island sport of lawn bowling or ‘bowls’.

Rugby is nothing but a game of perceptions, so you can imagine to our travel hardened tourists what images of lawn bowling invoked in the brain. Tea and crumpets, resplendent white uniforms and royal platitudes to name a few. In-depth information about ‘bowls’ is available on the Bowls New Zealand website.

The truth couldn’t be any further from those perceptions. The people we met were just as pleasant as any other New Zealander we’d met, and they took great pains to show us the sport that may take second fiddle to rugby in this nation that worships the sport, but is no less beloved by its participants. Many of the bowling team members were former rugby players themselves.

We were introduced to our bowling ‘coaches’, with one very patient individual being assigned to six oblivious recruits. After a few practice trial runs, and only minor property and limb damage, we bowled for our self established pot of gold. This was claimed by Paul ‘Mad Dog’ Castillo and a final go for broke rush for the green spider was secured by Danny’ Kurth, who utilized just as much luck as skill in securing his prize. This was followed up by a belly aching, tear producing, laugh fest of a lunch, emceed by a hilarous friend of Murray’s (also a bowling club member) who closed out our visit with some nuggets of wisdom and prizes to the quick of mind and happy of hearts.

The sheer highlight of the tour so far was our next stop in Wellington after the international match day. Our hosts were Johnsonville RFC. Based on our reception, it would be hard for an outside observer to guess who was anticipating this visit more, the tourists or the hosts.

We stepped off the bus and were ushered into a quiet hall for a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony, called a Pōwhiri. It is important to note that despite a number of visiting dignitaries, guests and journalists present, the Milwaukee Harlequins were the first to be allowed to enter the room. This is considered an extreme privilege and sign of respect in this ceremonial process.

The ceremony itself was performed by two ‘elders’ on guitars, and a number of younger ‘warriors’ and ‘dancers’. The initial opening or the karanga (challenge) by the male warriors, evolved into a Haka. It is of the upmost importantance during the challenge to not break the gaze with the ‘chief’ challenger, and in this role JP Kloiber succeeded in a face to face battle of wills. Winning or completing the challenge indicates you are a worthy opponent.

Once the challenge was accepted and met, there were a number of quite stirring songs and dances that culminated with the (non traditional) wild applause and cheering from the crowd that was present.

After this reception, the team and its entourage boarded the bus to travel to the nearby valley, where the match was played in an actual sheep paddock. It was a bumpy trip, across narrow windy, dirt roads, but once we arrived, it was as if George (our bus driver) had delivered us to heaven. Set next to a river, amongst some tall, rangy hills, the only real noticeable obstructions were the presents left for us by some of the former residents. Say what you will about sheep dung, it is soft, and doesn’t pick sides when someone steps in it.

Expectations of the match ranged, especially with our bruising affair only a few days past vs. New Plymouth, but the crowd (estimated in the hundreds) was well into it. A great recap of the match can be found in the story posted by Michelle Duff of the Dominion Post. After some clearing rucks and deft passing, Adam Blaseke was the final recipient of a series of transfers to dot it down for the visitors.

The Cripples (Johnsonville Old Boys) roared right back to push one across. The contest see-sawed in possession, and the Harlequins came close to scoring but did our best Minnesota Vikings impression by not scoring the rest of the match. To their credit, the Cripples regrouped at halfway and brought out some hidden energy reserves to push the scoreline decidedly in their favor. In a match such as this, there truly was no loser.

The post match festivities began with the usual speeches and platitudes, granting honor to the ‘men of the match’, as well as the various club officials including our own Joe Kloiber. The real highlight was the feast of Hāngi, prepared in the traditional method of burying the meal for over 6 hours on heated coals. In the end, when you can share your meal with your opposites, there is no better display of the togetherness of rugby.

As the sun slipped away behind the mountains, and the body temperatures cooled, the memories of a great day of battle, followed by a celebration of living, brought warmth to the soul as we boarded the bus back to Wellington.

A grand day indeed.

Yours in rugby,
Prince Jim

Jim Harings
Jim Harings
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