For the past few weeks, sport has begun its long, hard comeback. Three months ago, it was ripped from us as the world dealt with far more important issues. But after a lot of hard work, Germany was able to get football going again last month. Other countries soon followed, and last night, even Italian football resumed. The PGA Tour in America is halfway through its return event, horse racing is back, while the Premier League, the NBA and even the GAA all have their return dates set.
Normality is slowly returning, but it's an augmented normality. Empty stadiums, fake crowd noise, cardboard cutout supporters, it's not exactly what we associate with sport, but you quickly get used to it. This morning, we've seen something a whole lot different and it finally feels like real life again.
New Zealand have made more progress containing and eliminating the coronavirus than anyone else, so much so, they decided last week that the return of Super Rugby could take place in full stadiums. So, when Sky Sports began their broadcast of the Highlanders and the Chiefs this morning, it was like a slap in the face. Here was a pre-match build up, on the pitch, in front of real supporters. Atmosphere, no less!
And the people were there for more than to just watch rugby. A huge carnival atmosphere developed straight away. The presenters and analysts on the pitch couldn't hear each other through the noise. As the Sky TV (New Zealand) presenter put it, they'd done the work, now it was time for the treat.
😍 How good?! Crowds in a stadium!!
Live @Highlanders v @ChiefsRugby from #SuperRugbyAotearoa now on @SkySports Main Event & Action. Kick-off in 5 minutes.
Or follow it here 👉 https://t.co/64PJ97s7Iw pic.twitter.com/GmjCbL0aDU
— Sky Sports Rugby Union (@SkySportsRugby) June 13, 2020
Not many countries have done as good a job as New Zealand at containing the virus, and fewer again have the ability to isolate themselves completely to protect from further spread, so this won't be commonplace for a while yet. For now though, it was just nice to see sport as it should be played again. It was a shock to the system, but one we hope to see more and more of in the coming months.
It wasn't been a bad game either. At half time, the Highlanders were leading by 22 points to 16, and while the second half was sloppy and penalty heavy, the end of the game contained plenty of drama. Damian McKenzie's drop goal put the Chiefs ahead by two points with just two minutes to go. Immediately, the Highlanders replied with a Bryn Gatland drop goal of their own to secure a brilliant one point win by 28-27 and break his dad's heart.
The try of the game went to Warren's Chiefs in the first half however.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) June 13, 2020
The reaction to the return of rugby, and the return of crowds, has been universally positive.
Congratulations New Zealand! Live professional sport with a crowd only minutes away. What do you enjoy the most about being at Level 1?
— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) June 13, 2020
Love having live rugby back!!! Well done NZ 👏🏼 https://t.co/wbbm0iPMFh
— Tommy Bowe (@TommyBowe) June 13, 2020
Good am I jealous of the Kiwis at the moment - super rugby and full crowds enjoying a beer.
— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) June 13, 2020
No empty stands, no manufactured crowd noise, no face masks, no social distancing...
The strangest thing about the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand is how normal it is: https://t.co/A69eqg1n3k pic.twitter.com/WdORzEQiwi
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 13, 2020
Is live sport the only thing that can get near universal positivity on the feed now? Loads of people celebrating rugby's return, good to have it back.
— Maurice Brosnan (@m_brosnan) June 13, 2020