Last Saturday 28th of September I took the journey an hour out of the city to watch Argentina take on New Zealand beneath the sparkling, white beams of the Estadio De La Ciudad in La Plata.
I and a group of housemates stepped onto the coach at 9 de Julio around 1 o’clock and were whizzed down the motorway to a city with a growing electricity running through its dusty streets. The All Blacks were in town. A rugby team still to this day heralded as the greatest in the world. This was going to be as much a spectacle as a competitive match and I was excited.
Lunch came first. We chose a bustling restaurant in town and ordered in a round of burgers and chips and several bottles of Isenbeck. Discussing the game, everyone spoke with a sense of impending fate for Argentina. Most of us agreed that the Pumas (Argentina) had to source a miracle to overcome their South Pacific rivals. Yet the result was not upmost in our minds. The real excitement lay in the prospect of seeing the Haka, New Zealand’s aggressive, thundering war cry that stems from their historical Maori culture and is performed at the beginning of every one of their rugby matches.
We arrived at the stadium just as it was beginning to rain. Not to worry though; the impressive, modern dome that loomed out of the darkening clouds was built with shelter for spectators on all sides. We joined the noisy queues and trooped inside. As we took our seats in the North Stand, 20 minutes before kick-off, the stadium was already roaring. The babbling drone of Pumas songs was complemented by impromptu Mexican waves and dancing. The noise level cranked up as the two teams stomped onto the field. Two lines of monstrous, heaving men sang their respective anthems with chests puffed and fists held passionately to their heart.
The singing stopped and the whistling began. This was the moment everyone had been waiting for. The Haka was imminent and the stadium hummed with impatient excitement. All around me people were murmuring, peering over each other to get the best view possible of the New Zealand side that was slowly congregating in their customary triangular formation. Gradually the noise was reduced to but a few whistles as the crowd acknowledged that the All Blacks were poised to let rip.
Needless to say, the Haka was incredible. It was an expression of ferocity and force that erupted around the stands with each kiwi bellow and each crack of palm on skin. It was only 30 seconds long but that was enough to establish a raging sense of purpose. The pumas stood strong, lined up opposite the All Blacks, and staring them down with all the menace they could muster. The sequence of shouts ended with a final booming syllable that stunned the spectators for a split-second only for the chanting of “Pumas! Pumas!” to recommence and the match to finally begin.
Fuelled by the home support Argentina came out strong and resilient in the first half, matching the All Blacks with every move and going into the break just behind their opponents. But New Zealand’s quality began to show in the second half as they picked up the tempo and gradually started to out-wit and out-class the Pumas. In the end, save for some very strong tackling from some of the Argentine men, New Zealand came out as easy winners.
Nevertheless it was a fantastic match to see, enhanced by an equally fantastic atmosphere. It was a great privelege to see two giants in the rugby world battle it out on my first visit to an Argentine stadium and made for a day to remember.
For more information on events in Argentina visit www.sayhueque.com