How Rugby Became a Touchstone for a Reporter Abroad

How Rugby Became a Touchstone for a Reporter Abroad

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Jamie Tarabay, a correspondent with the Australia bureau.


I lived overseas for some 20 years and in all that time, wherever I was, if the Wallabies were playing, I would do what I could to watch.

I was in a sweaty bar off Orchard Road in Singapore in 1999, watching the team fight its way past opponent after opponent to take the Rugby World Cup.

In 2001, my American friends hauled me to a pub in Tel Aviv to watch the Wallabies play the British Lions when the Brits and Ireland were touring Australia. I remember letting out a roar after the anthem played, and groans echoing throughout the establishment as British supporters realized they had an Australian in their midst who wouldn’t stop shouting at the screen.

In 2015, I found a rare pub in the financial district in Lower Manhattan and sat at a table and screamed at the television as the Wallabies strove to grasp points against the other team — England, Wales, Scotland, Argentina — only to lose to New Zealand in the final. My son, who was six years old at the time, watched in bewilderment as his mother repeatedly leapt out of her seat with an aborted curse, a raucous cheer and finally begrudging defeat, in the language of a sport he had yet to comprehend.

In all these places, the Wallabies helped me feel close to home, my friends and the only sport I love to watch. So you can imagine my delight when The New York Times decided to produce a special section devoted to the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in Japan on Friday.

I got to meet the Wallabies squad before they left for Japan — where the home team will meet Russia before crowds that have solidly taken on the sport and are as fanatical as any of us — and talked to the players about the year they’ve had.

It’s been eventful. With the tumult the Israel Folau saga has left in their midst, they discussed how they’ll need to hone their focus when they take on the best of the world over the next few weeks.

For my second story for our rugby special, I traveled to Auckland and saw the way the game is woven into the fabric of the country. Just as Australia’s spirit was forged in the cricket victories against England that spawned the Ashes, so too did New Zealand find its way as a nation in its wins over the mother country in rugby. It was also a revelation to witness the kind of pressure the All Blacks face from their own people, who are so wholly invested in them.

And, of course, their fans extend beyond the Tasman Sea. When The Times announced my return to Australia it mentioned my son, now 10, who is half-American, half-Australian and a 100 percent All Blacks supporter. I can’t blame him. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a healthy regard for our southern neighbors, and it has been my default that once the Aussies are out of the competition I’ve cheered them on instead.

I’ll be watching this year’s contest with excitement and avid admiration for all the players (big and small) and the teams — defending champions and underdogs.

Rugby, during all those years away, was a touchstone and now it’s a family passion. Is that the case for you? Or are there other experiences with Australian sport that have helped you connect with home from distant lands? Share your sports stories with us at

Now here are a few other stories from the region and the world.

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