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Rubgy Classic a unique sporting occasion

The incongruous sight of a posse of 6ft 6in brutes riding atop a tiny scooter along Front Street is a sure sign that the Classic's back in town.

It's hardly the macho image that rugby players would want to portray but then they don't give a hoot while in Bermuda, it's another world and, more to the point, nobody's about to argue.

These guys play hard, party hard.

The World Rugby Classic is unique. It's created an image of its own. And Bermuda should be grateful.

It's cemented its place on the Bermuda calendar from both a sporting and tourism perceptive.

Not much has changed in recent years — players defying their age (at least, making a valiant attempt to do so), showing the same intensity and commitment that was evident during their international playing days, giving no quarter and none asked, enjoying first class hospitality and, when the games finish, creating social mayhem.

There are any number of reasons why so many make the same pilgrimage along Frog Lane into the National Sports Centre North Field every November.

Founder and Classic director John Kane, who strolls around the ground, occasionally popping into the VIP area and visiting the various hospitality tents, gives the impression that after all these years — it's celebrating its 25th anniversary — this sporting spectacle takes care of itself.

Far from it. As soon as next week's Classic ends preparation begins for the next.

Events such as this don't develop and progress without much planning and devoting hours to ensure those plans are well executed.

In its infancy, the Classic might gave given the impression that it was an exclusive expat festival, much like the Easter Classic before it.

Given that Bermudians had rarely been exposed to the sport, and only a sprinkling of them showed any interest playing, that description wouldn't be too far off the mark.

Things have changed. It's come a long way since its inception. It attracts as much of a mixed crowd as the Grand Slam of Golf.

The Classic has played a major role introducing the sport to the locals, it's given them an understanding of the game, and combined with the various junior programmes, it's increased popularity, albeit not quite as much as Bermuda Rugby Football Union would have hoped.

It's also elevated the tourism figures traditionally expected at this time of the year.

Taking into account eight teams with a squad of around 25, double that number with officials, friends and family, and the impact is significant.

When football's Dudley Eve Trophy final takes place on Monday's public holiday, it's likely more people will watch the Classic than those who head next door to the NSC South Field.

Any disparity in numbers could, in part, be attributed to the social attraction.

But football to a large extent has dwindled in popularity as regards its fan base, not because the game lacks appeal but because in stark contrast to the rugby, the standard has dropped.

There may also be a perception, despite the efforts of various clubs and Bermuda Football Association, that the game isn't always family friendly.

It's unfair to compare a one-off event to a national sport that is played through the week, day and evening.

But among those who will watch the rugby, a large proportion will also watch football's Premier League and the Champions League on TV. The proliferation of televised games entices would-be spectators to stay at home and watch from the comfort of the couch.

The Classic reaches out to a wide spectre of the community. It's different from the run of the mill sporting occasion.

It's become far more than a rugby exhibition. The players play with pride and patriotism.

And while it isn't the World Cup, the competition is fierce.

The country that lifts the trophy next Saturday will feel they've earned it.

And they'll have the wounds to prove it.

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Published November 08, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 07, 2013 at 5:13 pm)

Rubgy Classic a unique sporting occasion

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