The South Africa Springboks recently won this year's Tri Nations tournament, an annual rugby union* tournament with New Zealand's, Australia's, and South Africa's top national squads. If you like rugby, this is the highlight of any non-World Cup year. These three southern hemisphere teams have been dominating international rugby for years. This is kind of like having a college football conference with Florida, USC, and Texas playing each other every week for two months. Sure, a team like LSU may win a national championship every once in a while and a team like England may win the World Cup, but there's just no other major annual rugby tournament with this level of talent or competition. Six Nations just can't compete.
By the way, America sucks at rugby. We long ago turned it into our game of football in order to make it safer and less chaotic and will likely never fall back in love with the original, but Takudzwa Ngwenya may very well be the fastest man in international rugby.
Anyway, all of this was the set up for me to say that I didn't watch even a second of the Tri Nations this year. I was aware it was going on, but I didn't bother signing back up with Setanta or paying for the games on Mediazone.com. I knew that New Zealand wasn't playing that well and that South Africa was. I wasn't surprised that South Africa won, but for once I didn't really care. See, I've been a New Zealand All Blacks fan since I visited New Zealand back in '98. My trip coincided with the Tri Nations and I was in Cairns, Australia when South Africa played the Wallabies and I was in Aukland, New Zealand when South Africa played the All Blacks. In fact, on the way to the hotel from the airport, my bus passed long streams of fans in black walking to the stadium. This was the year that South Africa rolled through the tournament without a loss, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a country so obsessed with one sports team and the obsession is infectious.
I even acknowledge that rugby has some advantages over my favorite sport, American football. For one, you don't have commercial breaks during the game and the action doesn't even stop for plays to be called or the ball to be placed for downs. When a guy gets tackled, the ball is instantly turned over to his teammates (or stolen by the other team) and play resumes instantly. The only pauses in each half are for injuries and penalties, and those are usually quite short. In the five years that I actively followed the Tri Nations tournament, I found it a little hard to get used to football season when it started up halfway through the tournament. The gaps in action between plays and for commercials were suddenly excruciating, but I eventually got used to it, especially when I got DVR and no longer had to watch the commercials. I also didn't miss the forward pass in the least. I enjoy a nice deep pass every once in a while, but, honestly, I find a big running back rumbling and stumbling for five or 10 yards or a speed back cutting through a hole and taking off down the sideline, defensive backs in pursuit, much more exciting than even the best passing plays. Obviously, I'm a fan of Georgia Tech's Triple Option offense even though Josh Nesbitt is apparently as likely to throw a completion to the defense as he is to the offense.
This year, I just didn't care. Part of it is lack of exposure. I dropped Setanta at the end of the last tournament season because it's expensive. I planned on adding it again just in time for this year's tournament, but in the mean time, I just lost interest. I wasn't watching any rugby in that time. My passion for tennis was reignited in the spring and instead of going through a summer without a sport I cared to watch, I was suddenly watching tennis, even the minor tournaments broadcast on the Tennis Channel. When it came time for Tri Nations, I wasn't in sports withdrawal. I had Wimbledon and the US Open to tide me over through those last two months of summer until college football kicked off. I just didn't feel the need to spend money to watch rugby for the first time in years.
Now, I'll probably still tune in to a rugby match whenever the opportunity arises. ESPN occasionally carries a match and I think the World Cup got some coverage in the US last time. I still love the game. I'm just no longer a fan.