26 November 2007

Zenobia's Haka

Scary faces, lots of thigh-slapping and loud chanting.

Slap the hands against the thighs

Puff out the chest
Bend the knees
Let the hip follow
Stamp the feet as hard as you can
It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!

No, not Zenobia in ecstasy (as she might have been at one of Astarte's feasts) , but rugby!

The Damascus Rugby Seven gets pride of place on my blog today. They are named the Zenobians. After the queen of Palmyra -- and wouldn't she have enjoyed the scrum: "There's a lot of passion," said the team captain. "It’s a battle, just without any weapons,” he added with glee.

Sevens is a particularly fast version of rugby, where teams of seven players compete on a full-size field and play seven-minute halves (rather than 15 players and 80 minutes in the regular game). Rugby is renowned for its exhausting play and rough, often bloody contact. Lightning-fast backs, 300-pound forwards, huge hits, and bone-crunching tackles -- with no sissy-like pads or helmets-- the game taps into a deep well of Syrian pride. Hence, the anomaly of an all-male club named after a female. In a sport not known for gentlemanly attitudes to women ("the position of women in this game is prone", comes to mind), the rebel queen still has a lot of clout.

The Syrian players (left, © 2007 The NY Times) are preparing for the sport's big contest: the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, a tournament scheduled from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 that will draw teams from around the world.

Dubai Sevens 2007

Over 160 teams and 1,750 players will strap on their boots for this rugby extravaganza. Featuring 16 of the best Sevens nations in the world, the Dubai Rugby Sevens has grown into a magical sporting week that attracts fans from every rugby-loving country.

Last year, South Africa took the trophy honours by beating the All Blacks 31-12 in a thrilling final (but thank you, All Blacks, for your scary Haka war chant: Zenobia would have loved it). As well as the international action, more than 1,500 players take part in club invitation competitions. The Zenobians will compete in the Gulf Mens RoundRobin, and, in a series dominated largely by expatriate rugby teams, the Zenobians are special because they are mostly Syrian players.

There is also, to my amazement, a women's rugby event at Dubai, with two dozen teams competing for an International Ladies Plate. But no ladies' team from Syria. Now that would be a club to be named after Zenobia! [Zenobia versus the Roman Baba's, Round II].

But, this week, good luck Zenobian guys!

And after you have beaten the likes of Kuwaiti Nomads and Dubai Hurricanes, and begin the rugby songs -- Oh the Ball, the Ball! -- with beer in hand (Dubai is not dry), I propose as a Zenobian anthem the after-the-match classic, The Camel. I'm sorry, it's a bit too rude for this blog: you'll only have yourself to blame if you click on it. But it's the bawdy songs that bring out the true rugby spirit.

Update (3/12/07): "It is life! It is life!"

New Zealand Take Out 2007 Emirates International Trophy

New Zealand secured the 2007 trophy with a blistering 31-21 win over Fiji. The All Black captain said afterwards (with a sporting allowance of mixed metaphors), “We had to open up and fire on all engines and we did that right from the very beginning. You can never write the Fijians off and we had to stick to our guns right to the very end. They are a very physical team and they had a lot of flair but we really dug deep.”

And the women? The International Ladies Plate went to the Pink Ba-bas who clobbered the Moody Cows 36-10.

Alas, Zenobians, Alas!


  1. Who knew, that beside your many talents and areas of knowledge, you could be analytical about rugby? Not much of a game here in the U.S., and Sevens is new to me--so everything I read teaches me a bit more.
    Curious to know: what other teams in what other sports are named after a female historical figure? Somehow, the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Montpellier Marie Antoinettes does not sound convincing. Even Amazon implies a female team. Boudica? That might work.
    Does a mean have to be strong and militaristic--more like a man--to receive this honor?

  2. There is a female rugby team, the Boudiccas ERFC (who lost in the Dubai semi-finals to the Moody Cows). No male team named after a woman, in this or any other sport, comes to mind. Perhaps our readers know of one...?

    "Marie Antoinette" wouldn't work, not even for curling. :-)


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