Friday marked our first game with the Australian National Team. We woke up early and took a YarraTram (the streetcars that connect all of Melbourne) back over to Melbourne University, where we had a final walkthrough to cover our gameplan. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel for a big Australian breakfast and then we went over to the south bank of the Yarra for a tour of the cricket pitch. The pitch, also called MCG, is home to the Australian National Cricket Team, the Victoria Bushrangers Cricket Club, and four prominent Australian Rules Football teams. Aussie Football, unsurprisingly, is followed as religiously in Australia as the NFL is in America. It’s a much closer relative of rugby than American Football, but still has all the contact and action to pack the MCG full of 100,000 rabid fans for the finals. The tour took us through almost every part of the stadium imaginable, from the cricket equivalent of the batting cages to the Long Room, where 50-year members of the Melbourne Cricket Club could enjoy the matches in a rich, mahogany environment with a glass of champagne and a myriad of screens to follow the game. Unfortunately, the dress code for the Long Room is about as classy as you’d expect, so our guide informed us in a tongue-in-cheek manner that we were “by far the worst group that’s ever been let in.” Undaunted, we loaded up on AFL and cricket gear and returned to downtown Melbourne.
After lunch, we were free until our game in the evening. Our team chose to fill up the time in a variety of different ways, from walking through Foundation Square to sampling some of the local cuisine. However, easily the most popular option was a trip to the beach. Most of us hopped onto the tram over to St. Kilda, a sort of resort suburb that was established early in Melbourne’s history as an escape from the rigors of city life. On a day when the temperature soared well over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the 60 degree water was a great alternative. Australia has a surprising amount of wildlife that can kill you, from dinner-plate-sized jellyfish to vicious sharks, but they seldom make it to Melbourne and did nothing to distract us from our experience.
Finally, we boarded the bus out to the Footscray Hockey Club (field hockey, for both men and women, is a very prominent sport here) for our game with the National Team. Australia is routinely a major competitor in the World Games, and currently they are facing their final cuts before they travel to the World Championships this summer. It had been a while since we had played together as a team, and our collective rust was prominent in the first half, allowing the Sharks to jump out to an early lead. However, after the half we settled down on both offense and defense. The defense had several great stops and forced the Aussies to shift tactics to counter. Likewise, the offense started creating some great opportunities, leading to goals from Phil Valliant ’12, Max Hjelm ’11, and Alex Guy ’10. Hjelm even had an unusual rideback goal where he checked a defender’s stick and caused him to flip the ball back into the net. Ultimately, the game was a good first step and we were all eagerly anticipating our rematch the following day.
After the late evening game, we scattered throughout the city to find somewhere, anywhere, that was still open for dinner at 10pm. A good number of us made it out to Lygon Street, the “little Italy” of Melbourne, where we settled on the restaurant “Il Gusto.” Our waiter, Fernando, was unusually enterprising and stated a passionate case as to why his restaurant “wasn’t the best in the world, but no one else was better than it.” He also continuously serenaded embarassed passerby for the entertainment of his clients. Afterwards, our team explored Lygon Street and other Melbourne hotspots before returning home to rest up for the next day.