Jack Tame: It's showtime on the pitch

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Fans turned out in force when the Maori All Blacks played the US in Philadelphia. Photo / Getty Images
Fans turned out in force when the Maori All Blacks played the US in Philadelphia. Photo / Getty Images

Say what you will about food or politics or popular culture, when it comes to sports entertainment, America does it better.

You can't pause for a 30-second timeout at a basketball game without a DJ spinning, dancers thrusting, a middle man attempting to win a cash prize by sinking an unlikely three-pointer and a platoon of T-shirt cannons pounding the crowd.

Even baseball - potentially the world's most tedious sport - is rendered almost bearable by songs, mascots, peanuts, beer, Jumbo-tron and the seventh inning stretch.

The anthems are prouder. The fans are louder. Watching sport in America is an experience.

I hadn't known quite what to expect when the Maori All Blacks played the US on the outskirts of Philadelphia. My rugby experience in the US has been limited to social Sunday night touch and an ill-fated university team on the Pacific North East with the terrible misfortune of playing on Astroturf.

Apparently no one checked with the players before the pitch was installed and even the lightest training sessions end with carpet-burned elbows and bloody knees.

Philadelphia though, bizarre as it may've appeared on paper, was incredible.

The game sold out well in advance: 18,000 fans. They came in chartered buses from hours away, Americans in the jackets of their respective club teams. Tickets were scalped online before kickoff for up to US$300 apiece, and when we arrived - some three hours early - we were shocked to find thousands already barbecuing and tailgating in the car park outside.

Every All Blacks jersey in the stadium sold out. Every one. The haka was muffled by a stadium-wide "USA" chant, and the noise and atmosphere comfortably bettered several Super Rugby finals I've attended in the past.

"You guys are the best. I've been all over the world and the way you entertain and get people packed in is just outstanding," said Maori coach Colin Cooper with a grin on his face to the assembled American press after the game.

The NZRU wants to bring the All Blacks to New York City next year: the world's best team in the world's best city.

A fortnight ago, I might have questioned why. Questioned if they want to spread the game or simply appease their sponsor.

Now I wonder if rugby's growth in North America means we won't be the world's best team forever.

- Herald on Sunday

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