To build the field, 32-year-old fleet operations worker Chris Evans dragged a plow across a flat stretch of sea ice, compressing the snow into a firm but springy layer. “It’s good enough to run on, but soft enough to fall,” Evans says. The goal posts were fabricated a few years ago, and have remained in good enough condition for this year’s game.
All of the preparation has led to today’s big match. Over 200 spectators stand on the sidelines, wearing heavy winter coats and sunscreen, on account of the fierce sun overhead and the thin Antarctic ozone layer. “Rugby 101” pamphlets have been distributed to the American fans, explaining the rules of the game.
A whistle blows after the haka, and the game begins. Months of practice have given the American squad an advantage, and they surprise the Ice Blacks with aggressive play in an evenly matched first half.
The first legitimate scoring chance comes off the foot of American Brandon Friese, who rings a penalty kick off the crossbar. The missed kick, which would have given the United States its first lead in the 26-year history of the rivalry, hurts double for Friese—he hit the crossbar last year, too.
“You should sign your name on it!” yells a heckler. “The Brandon Friese Memorial Crossbar!”
Moments later, New Zealander Lucas Baldwin breaks a tackle and reaches the end zone, giving his country a slim 5-0 lead at halftime.
Julie Patterson, 43, is one of the few women on the field, playing the position of “hooker” for New Zealand. She thinks her team could have performed better in the first half. “We were slow to warm up,” she says. “But then we finally started playing rugby.”