New Zealand’s dark uniforms have earned their national rugby team the moniker “All Blacks.” But here in frosty Antarctica, the Scott Base players prefer to call themselves the “Ice Blacks.”
Like the national team, the Ice Blacks begin the match with a traditional posture dance known as the “haka.” In a staggered formation near the middle of the field, the players slap their thighs and pound their chests, yelling wildly in the native tongue of the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
The haka is loud and impressive, but while it is meant to intimidate, today’s haka seems to have the opposite effect on the Americans.
“I’ve been pumped for this for months,” says Leard, a 29-year-old carpenter from Waltham, Massachusetts. “It’s cool to have the haka done to you.”
Preparation for the match began months earlier, when McMurdo’s summer shift began to arrive near the end of August. Days in Antarctica are a little unusual. The sun never sets in the warmer months—which last from September to February in the southern hemisphere—and the entire continent is plunged in darkness in winter, which prevents flights to and from the ice.
Rugby practice for the Americans began in mid-October, with weekly Sunday drills. “Half our guys didn’t know how to play the game,” Leard says. “They’re used to high school football, used to forward passes, which aren’t allowed in rugby.”
Legend holds that the New Zealanders are so highly skilled that they don’t need to practice in advance of the match. But in recent years, the Americans have managed to put some points on the board by scoring a few “penalty goals”—free kicks worth three points each—motivating the New Zealand team to prepare just a little.
“Anything worse than a blanking is an embarrassment,” says Albert Weethling, a 49-year-old water engineer who is New Zealand’s captain. “We’ve done very well historically.”