I love rugby. Maybe not a surprising statement from a Kiwi, it is often said that rugby is New Zealand’s religion. As any expat will tell you, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and since I’ve been an expat for twenty something years now, my passion for rugby in general and the All Blacks in particular burns very brightly.
And I say to you, even if you’re not a rugby fan, if you like a festival, if you like an ongoing party, you might want to go to future RWC’s. Because until you get to the pointy end, the Semis and Finals, the party atmosphere completely overrides the rugby.
So when there’s a RWC in New Zealand, I have to go. Impossible to stay away. I bought my tickets 18 months ago in the first ballot. I booked my airfares 9 months ago – flying in and out for 3 day weekends every weekend, since I couldn’t get the time off work. My sister, who also lives overseas, chucked her job in and went back to NZ for three months – I am so jealous of that. So on the eve of our big semi-final, here’s my highlights (and lowlights) on the RWC so far.
Week 1 RWC 2011
- We head to the big open air fanzone set up on the Auckland waterfront to have some lunch and soak up the buzz. Seems like dozens of nationalities in team colours all with big grins on their faces. Get to see the massive waka’s rehearsing on the harbour – cool
- Go meet a friend for an afternoon coffee in the lobby of the Heritage Hotel – where it just so happens the All Blacks are staying. Us, stalkers?- no… Got my photo taken with Dan Carter, I am totally star struck. Then turned around and saw Ritchie McCaw on the sofa behind me, lost my mind, left the hotel babbling like a teenager – OMG! Have to say, those All Blacks are very accessible.
- My tip for future RWC’s – try and have your friends live within 15 minutes walk of the stadium, and go stay with them – every weekend. Even better if there is one french wine bar and numerous pubs along that 15 minute walk. Especially important in Auckland, where public transport is an embarrassing joke.
- To the great surprise of everyone, Aucklanders actually took notice of all the exhortations for them to “leave their cars at home” and “take the train”, and they did – and the train system promptly melted down, leaving thousands stranded on trains and missing the opening ceremony and the opening game.
- All Blacks play Tonga in the opening game. I was really looking forward to the atmosphere, as the arrival of the Tongan team earlier in the week and the turn out and fervour of the Tongans in NZ to greet them, had already kick-started the Cup atmosphere. I am disappointed – there are only a handful of Tongans in the crowd, I have a horrible feeling they got priced out of the game – and that’s a real shame and to the detriment of the tournament. Someone should’ve done a deal for them. All Blacks win.
Week 2, RWC 2011
- Missed this one as I was in Amsterdam for a very quick work trip – normally that would be a good thing but during a RWC? I’m missing all the fun.
- Ireland beats Australia and suddenly every single Kiwi rediscovers their Irish roots and cheers them on. All Blacks win.
Week 3, RWC 2011
- Possibly the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen at a game. Both All Blacks and French supporters are dressed up, revved up, chanting and cheering non-stop, but it’s all good natured, no aggro at all. Even though the French lost, they carried on cheerfully partying all night – I have to love a team whose supporters want to buy us drinks all night after they lose – class act. All Blacks win.
- If you have a bit of a beer belly and you are going to wear an unforgiving white clingy unitard and a red, blue and white rooster as a cock sock, do it with confidence, just like the French supporters
- I am getting used to hearing the French Horn blown before every kickoff in the RWC. Its not very ‘rugby’ but it is a great addition to the atmosphere – its sounds like a bull fight is starting and 60,000 people yell Ole! every time.
Week 4, RWC 2011
- My long weekend doesn’t start so well when, on my flight to Wellington, lady in seat in front of me passes out, needs oxygen, and then throws up everywhere. No thanks steward, I won’t be having dinner, I seem to have lost my appetite.
- Not sure if I am really in Wellington – the sun is shining like a summer’s day and there is no howling wind from Antarctica. Have a coffee and realise that yes, this is Wellington, not many places on earth do coffee this good – in every single cafe!
- Nonu nonchalantly walks past us in the street in the middle of the day (for those who don’t know, All Black with magic flying feet and dreads.) I very non-nonchalantly stop, stare, point and gape.
- The official merchandise stores are all full of French buying up All Blacks gear – guess they like us?
- We take the cable car up the hill, great view of this city of hills around a perfect little circle of a harbour. We walk back down through the botanical gardens and find the flower beds planted as the flags of the 20 participating countries.
- All Blacks have no problem beating Canada, as expected by everyone. Canadian fans celebrate that the All Blacks only score 79 points against them – their goal was to hold us at less than 1 point per minute (80 points – well done Canada). All Blacks win.
Week 5 RWC 2011
- Quarter finals time, now it’s all getting serious. I’m seeing two of the quarters live, two on the big screens in the pubs.
- I watch Springboks v Wallabies at a pop-up garden bar in a (award winning) burger joint in Kingsland, just next to the stadium, with a couple of hundred people. I am definitely not a short person, but this is the tallest crowd I have ever seen – at least 198 of the other people are taller than me, by a lot! It must be a parallel universe.
- Worst faux pas of the tournament. During the pre-match entertainment, before the start of the 4th and final quarter final, the All Blacks vs Argentina, the Kiwi TV presenter says to camera “isn’t is amazing that the 4 semi finalists in this tournament will be the same 4 countries in the semi finals in the first RWC in 1987, also held in NZ. Um, hello, a bit presumptuous anyone? Just a little bit rude to our Argentinian friends I think. All Blacks win.
So now our semi final is about to start – our “bogey” game – I think it’s going to be good – go All Blacks!
** update from the semi-finals – AB’s win, a hard fought game against our favourite foes, Australia, shame it’s not Wales we are meeting in the final, they were robbed by the ref!