Rugby crowd full of goodwill, and not just because of the beer

Just after strolling into Sam Boyd Stadium and Rugby Mosh Pit, my line of sight was assaulted by an 1,100-pound flash of leg and upper thigh.

Five beefy guys, each weighing around 220 pounds. Each wearing the New Zealand flag, a policeman’s cap, a too-small (aren’t they all?) Speedo. Some sort of footwear. Little else.

“We’re New Zealand Speedo cops,” the one with the mustache said. “But I live in Boston now.”

Four years ago, after Matt Damon and Clint Eastwood made a movie about the South African rugby team that helped Nelson Mandela tear down the wall of apartheid, I went to the USA Sevens in search of “Invictus.”

Instead, I found the New Zealand Speedo cops, in all their glory. Too much glory.

So the best thing about USA Sevens rugby, besides the rucking and mauling — and the part where one guy hoists another guy into the air by pulling up on his shorts, and another guy throws a ball shaped like a giant Easter egg to the guy way up in the air — still is that everybody drinks a lot of beer, and everybody gets along famously.

Plus, the games still last only 14 minutes. (Except for the championship.)

Giants vs. Dodgers should be like this.

In his welcome in the official (and free!) program, A. Jon Prusmack, the Imperial Rucker and Mauler (and CEO) of USA Sevens, wrote: “Las Vegas is a destination that brings all the elements of rugby Sevens — energy, speed, fun, and, of course, the party atmosphere, to a crescendo for our loyal and increasing fan base.”

A record crowd of 31,228 — now there’s an increasing fan base the UNLV football team would like to have — turned out for Saturday’s scrum between the posts which, I learned from assorted Fijians and Samoans and All Blacks, are spaced 3 meters apart.

Sixteen nations and beaucoup goodwill. This was like a mini-Olympics, only without Michael Phelps and the nonstop Visa ads.

In addition to a heavy influx of people from the Oceania nations, I also saw Englishmen and Scotsmen and Portuguese and Aussies and South Africans, in their dark green and gold rugby jerseys.

Canadians and Frenchmen and Spaniards and Argentinians and Welshmen.

And a preponderance of Yanks, who cheered in anticipation every time Carlin Isles, “The Fastest Man in Rugby,” tucked the giant Easter egg under his arm and ran like the dickens, until somebody rucked and mauled him.

I did not see a lot of Uruguayans. Perhaps a 36-0 blistering by the Canadians had something to do with it.

Most of these people from the other nations were drinking Fosters, out of a giant can; or Newcastle Brown Ale out of a giant plastic cup. Roughly half said they were from Boston, or were now living there. About a third referred to me as their “mate” or “bro.”

One asked a Metro cop to take my picture with him.

I had decided to watch Kenya vs. South Africa in the Kenyan cheering section, down around the 24.0595-yard line — the rugby 22-meter stripe — because there were a lot of Kenyans, and they seemed to be having such a good time. And, for once, they were standing still (or at least only jumping up and down) instead of running a marathon.

Kevin Kangethe was wearing a drab olive green army shirt with two chevrons and a Kenyan rugby scarf, and he had this Kenyan tribal drum strapped to his shoulder. He said the army shirt belonged to his stepfather, a man named Vaillancourt, who had flown Allied bombers during World War II and dropped 70,000-ton payloads on Hitler and Mussolini.

He seemed very proud of his stepfather, that army shirt, its authenticity. He took it off to show me his stepfather’s initials inside the collar.

He also said the rugby officials jobbed the Kenyans in New Zealand last week, or they would have beaten England in the final. And that would have been something, because Kenya has been a rugby-playing nation only since 1970.

He said he grew up in Nairobi but now lived in Boston. For some reason, he thought I wrote for a newspaper called the San Diego Times.

When a Metro cop said we should move along because we were blocking the walkway, Kangethe asked if he would snap our picture. “Me and San Diego Times, mon” he said. Then Kangethe had me snap a photo of him and the Metro cop.

The badge man said we still had to move along, because we still were blocking the walkway. But Kevin Kangethe’s spirit and smile had bought us a little time. This, I believe, is the power of the Kenyan people.

I met an attractive Kenyan woman named Kui Ciira, who also grew up in Nairobi but now is an investment manager for Merrill Lynch in Chicago. She said Kenyan people are enterprising people. “Many are Ivy Leagues” she said of countrymen who have gone on to achieve success in corporate America.

She said we should meet in Wrigley Field, when the weather is warm. That perhaps the Cubs would win the Baseball Cup this year.

Not all Kenyan people are Ivy Leagues, one supposes.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of a Kenyan rugby player rumbling down the pitch for his side’s only try, and then multiple Kenyans were deliriously beating the top of my head and clapping me about the back.

When South Africa won, 15-5, the Kenyans were crestfallen.

But because they were Kenyans and this was rugby, they soon would be jumping up and down again, and they’d be smiling again, and they’d be singing. And when they got home to Nairobi or Mombasa or Boston, they said they would go on the Internet and look for my story in the San Diego Times.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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