The Ground that We Won

November 7, 2015 at 5:28 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I finally got to see Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smiths’ documentary film about the Reporoa Rugby Club’s mens team’s 2013 season.

The team have had a terrible 2012 season – they lost every game – and got relegated. Against a backdrop of a drought, the team sets out to: win every game and win the grade. Reporoa is dairy country, and the lack of rain hangs over the little community; the collective of relief at one of the early 2013 practice sessions is palpable.

The film is in black-and-white; early on in the film I expected the colour to slip in. But no. The black-and-white gives the film a timeless effect; but for a few details (like the quad bikes, but not the team bus) this could have been the 2003, the 1993, or even the 1963 team! The Reporoa valley on the early morning looks fabulous.

The film closely follows three members of the team: the youngest member (‘peanut’), the captain (‘Kevin’), and a member of the bench (‘Broomie’). Broomie is the oldest; possibly not by much, but he is the real find of the film. Broomie is single-handedly raising twin sons (seven years old), and running a dairy farm by himself, and finds time to go to practice, to play the odd game, and coach some of the ‘littlies’. Kevin is taking over the family farm from his parents; they are still live there, and step in when he has an injury. Peanut (if they said his real name, then I missed it) is just a young guy starting out.

We see the team at work (dairying) and at play (rugby games, rugby practice, and ‘sessions’), and some of their private lives. Peanut and Kevin are seen hooking the cows up at the herringbone shed; Broomie’s got a rotary shed. Kevin is seen helping deliver calves – he attaches a bungy cord to the exposed hoof and uses his body weight to give the calf a bit of help to come out. Broomie is often seen calling his twins on his mobile phone, while leaning on a cow, in the pre-dawn morning, checking that they are ready for school.

The film is not about rugby; it is about the role rugby plays in a small dairy community – at least for the men. It gives the lads (of all ages some structure); there is a lot of energy, and baggage of life to deal with when you are a dairy farmer – beholden to the banks, depending on fickle markets, at the mercy of the weather. Rugby provides a way for the men in the community to come together, to work off frustrations, let off steam, and pass on values. Peanuts, 17, gets a lot of stick, but it is never malicious. Honestly, some of the male bonding and coming together immediately before a game would have been recognised by the Spartans.

Peanut is learning to box, for a charity event, and like many teenagers is a bit uncoordinated, and uncontrolled. His boxing coach (also a rugby player) lays it out for him: no showing off or acting out in public; “not cool”. His coach tells him don’t get angry, don’t loose control; of course peanut does, and flays away at his coach. His coach just lets him get too extended and ‘pops’ him ; “get up … keep going”.

Broomie cuddles the twins, but certainly doesn’t molly coddle them. They have chores (make their own lunch, get dressed, tidy their room, etc) to do if they want to go to rugby practice and not sit in the car. Broomie’s lays it out: there have to be rules or its chaos. At one littlies’ practice, one of the twins, trips another player and gets sinbinned by their dad-and-coach to the car. Tears of frustration, of missing the rest of practice, and of letting dad down.

There is the bus ride to and from the game – typical of sports bus trips. The core of the team end up at the back ‘holding court’. The bus gets quite wet at times; but next morning Kevin and a helper are washing it down.

The swearing was a surprise – heaps of it in the changing room. The drink sessions after practice was not; nor were the special sessions to mark some milestone.

You don’t have to be a New Zealander, nor have played rugby to see this film. But it is a uniquely New Zealand story, that needed to be captured, before the corporatisation of farming changes the make-up of small town rural New Zealand. If you have played rugby then some of the practices and games will be a bit more interesting. [Actually, the film could not be of the 1963 team because there is lifting in the line-outs.] But the film does not try to show too much of the games – just enough to show that the players and their communities care about the result.

A great documentary film that shows a side of the New Zealand male psyche that is not seen in an increasingly urban New Zealand.

See it if you can – warning contains swearing, drinking, and carrying-on!

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