Swans take AFL clash in Wellington

By Daniel Richardson

Dane Rampe of the Swans handballs during the round five AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Sydney Swans. Photo / Getty Images
Dane Rampe of the Swans handballs during the round five AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Sydney Swans. Photo / Getty Images

As the crowd screamed "baaaallll'' when a pile of bodies converged on this yellow oval-shaped thing at Westpac Stadium tonight it was hard not to get caught up in their intensity.

Kiwi rugby crowds could learn a thing or two from AFL fans, who are loud and passionate from the opening whistle.

The Sydney Swans beat the St Kilda Saints 79-63 in the first AFL regular season game to be played outside of Australia in Wellington tonight.

A crowd of 22,546 filtered in to the Cake Tin on an uncharacteristically still evening to provide an atmosphere the Hurricanes and Phoenix players could only dream about playing in.

With their scarves, polo shirts, jackets, hats and beanies, AFL fans stood out a mile away on the streets of Wellington before the game and it was great to see people supporting a sports team in such a way.

For the record, the crowd screams "baaaallll'' when they believe a player is guilty of holding the ball and the tackler should be awarded a free kick.

The rule itself is complex, with varying interpretations, which are best left to the umpires to decide on.

Australian Rules is a game that always has something happening and St Kilda's Justin Koschitzke kicked the first goal of the game in the fifth minute to give the Saints an unexpected early lead.

They booted another one a few minutes later before Josh Kennedy finally put the Swans on the board and from there the defending champions slowly took hold of the game.

Down by nearly 30 in the fourth and final 20-minute quarter, the Saints burst in to life as they pulled back to within two goals of what would have been a huge come-from-behind win.

But, the Swans held on in a scrappy final quarter to book their fourth win of the season.

The sport itself is quite a spectacle; there's few delays, long passages of play and the contest rattles along at top speed.

It's big potatoes across the ditch in Victoria and is catching on throughout the country and the AFL boasts 18 teams from five states.

Tonight's game was part of the league's big-picture planning to expand the game in varying quarters and there's a tentative ploy in place to bring a fixture back to Wellington for the next two years.

The Swans' victory gave them possession of the Simpson-Henderson trophy, which carried on the Anzac Day theme.

Private John Simpson served with the Australian Army Medical Corps in the 3rd Field Ambulance from the time of the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915.

He was killed in action by machine-gun fire while carrying two wounded men on his donkey on May 19.

Private Richard Henderson, a stretcher-bearer in the New Zealand Medical Corps at Gallipoli took over from Simpson.

He survived the war and was later awarded the Military Medal for his service on the Somme battlefields.

Henderson survived the war but was badly gassed in Belgium and was discharged in 1918. He remained in poor health for the rest of his life and died in Auckland in 1958.

As part of the occasion, St Kilda also played in a specially designed guernsey - Aussie Rules jersey - which featured a Maori art pattern.

Whether this sport will take off in the hearts of your average Kiwi punter is tough to say but you could do a lot worse with your Anzac Day evening than heading along to this fixture if it becomes a regular thing.

Sydney Swans 79 St Kilda Saints 63. 1Q: 21-19, HT: 43-33 3Q: 67-42

- APNZ

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