Rugby Romance

It was Valentine’s Day so I decided to show my long-suffering wife some genuine TLC. We loaded up the car and headed off to watch some rugby somewhere off the Jagorawi toll road. “But I don’t know anything about rugby,” was her half-hearted protest and I don’t think she was impressed by my response. “Nor do I. Do you want to go and see England play Australia in the Cricket World Cup instead?” The rugby won.

It was a wise decision. Jagowari boasts two fields, some goal posts and some white lines. OK, so it isn’t Twickenham, but the passion is the same – plus the spacious area afforded kids and accompanied dogs the opportunity to stretch their legs in a safe, fun environment.

The top field played host to a kids’ extravaganza, with Under 8s and Under 9s letting off steam in front of anxious parents. Down below, amid the white lines and set against a verdant backdrop of jungle light, the main event took place with the first games of the Jakarta Regional XVs kicking off.

Division one boasts Jakarta Japan Rugby Gila (JJRG to their mates), Bandung United, Komodos and Bantengs, while the second tier has Bandung Rams, Bogor Rusa and Universitas Negeri Jakarta (UNJ). Seven teams—one had the day off—vying for the title of the region’s best with the players also competing for the chance to represent Indonesia at international competition.

All eyes on the ball

I settled down on a grassy knoll not too far from the beer depository to enjoy the fun. I had a good view down on the proceedings but was clueless about how the scoring works, so I used my frequent trips to the beer tent to find out who was beating who, as well as get to know the friendly locals.

My wife was not being ignored, honest! This is the social media generation and in true Facebook style she had recognised a sister of a friend she had not seen for years and was having a wild old time imbibing of the grape and catching up on old times.

 It may not have been the Calcutta Cup, but it promised to be a feisty affair and I was not disappointed.

There were three games on the schedule, though to be honest I just had half an eye on the first game as I alternated my time watching the next generation being put through their paces on the top field and ensuring my wife was not too bored.

The second game was perhaps the main event. Komodos, an understated group of chaps who call themselves the “best rugby club in Southeast Asia” were playing the Bantengs and you could say there was some bad blood between the two. Traditionally the Komodos had the upper hand, but they had seen their Lionel Messi head for the Asian spiritual home of rugby, Hong Kong, while another mainstay was more interested in protecting his supposed good looks in the hope of furthering his TV career – they were expecting to struggle a bit.

In the meantime, Bantengs, who had normally drawn their strength from the Indonesian community, had snapped up a few foreigners to help them mount a title charge.

It may not have been the Calcutta Cup, but it promised to be a feisty affair and I was not disappointed.

Bantengs took the lead, but they were soon penned down close to their own line as Komodos tried to get on the score sheet. Bantengs defended valiantly and there were a few times when the referee was forced to call the captains together to ask for cool heads to reign.

The Bertie Wooster-type Bantengs skipper would then call his players together and pass on the message: “I say chaps, the old gent with the pea and whistle has asked that we keep our nerve don’t you know. Stop the digs, stop the name calling or he may be forced to punish you, what oh.” Or words to that effect.

The finest sight in rugby – a try

Then the pitch was invaded by a dog. Actually it was less a dog and more a large rat in high heels. The game was held up for a few moments as one of the big, rough and tough players attempted to escort said canine off the field. Oggie, for that was its name, was having none of it. He would decide when he would leave, not some guy in a tight green shirt, so he yelped and snarled and the player soon backed off much to the amusement of the crowd and other players.

Eventually the dog left the field and play resumed. Despite the pressure, the Bantengs were always a threat but I was still somewhat surprised to learn, when I went to replenish my beer supply at half time, the game was nicely poised at 15-15. “But I think Bantengs will win. They are fitter than our guys,” said the guy at the beer tent.

And for a while it looked like his prophecy would come true as Bantengs entered the final moments leading 22-20. Fortunately for the Komodos, a try was successfully converted and they ran out 27-22 winners in what had been a thrilling game for a neutral like me.

There was still one more game on the card to be played, but it seemed my wife had had enough of the rugby, and perhaps more to the point the wine, and not even my best Bintang diplomacy could persuade her to stick around any longer. Unfortunately I was not able to gather any more comments from the players as they unwound close to the beer tent and my suggestion we follow them to the pub to catch the 6 Nations game between England and Italy—in the name of research—didn’t go down too well. We packed the gear back in the car, I said “Happy Valentine’s Day” and then slept all the way home!

Indonesia Rugby indonesiarugbyunion.pitchero.com

Bantengs jakartabanteng.com/

Komodos www.pitchero.com/clubs/jakartakomodos/

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Antony is a freelance writer based in Jakarta. Please send comments and suggestions to antony@the-spiceislands.com