The World Cup Finally Arrives – My New Zealand Rugby Experience Returns
I had never seen a top-level rugby game before I came to New Zealand. Fortunately, this all changed for the better after just a few weeks of arriving and getting a job in Auckland. I was the enthusiastic new sales engineer who was given a bright red Nissan Bluebird and probably the hardest territory in South Auckland to see what he could achieve.
But before I was let loose, my boss at the time handed me a small envelope and told me to take the afternoon off. So this was different. A nice new car, a great boss and the chance to take the afternoon off – now I could get used to working in New Zealand.
I looked into the brown envelope, thinking it was some spending money and all I saw was a single ticket to a game of rugby.
“Take yourself to see some real rugby,” Glenn said.
Then I looked closely at the ticket to see who I was going to watch – the All Blacks against Italy. The opening game of the Rugby World Cup 1987. At the time this meant very little to me, as it apparently also did to the Auckland region at the time. So, while I remember a packed stand, I now read that the stadium was only half full. That’s how much enthusiasm there was for the cup when it last came to Auckland.
My seat was way at the back of what was then a rickety old wooden stand resting in the same place we now have the concrete gargantuan ASB Stand. There was some yelling and screaming from those around, and a fair bit of forceful encouragement but nothing really much of note.
This all changed when a young, tall, blond-haired All Black winger was given the ball way back in his own half and he began to race towards the Italian try line. He darted left and right and managed to work his way through those diving to snare him to the ground. You could feel the excitement build and the yelling with it. We were all standing up and shouting at the top of our lungs as he managed to carve through the lot of them and touch down just to the right of the goal posts. The sound, the excitement, the whole experience was all new to me and something that I will never forget.
This was my introduction to rugby in New Zealand that Friday on May 22nd as John Kirwan ran nearly the length of the field and scored against Italy to help the All Blacks win their opening Rugby World Cup game 70 – 6. Of course, John and the rest of the All Blacks went on to do further great things during the tournament and, as we all know, eventually succeeded in winning it for New Zealand.
Since that time I have yelled for every All Black team. Now, some of my English friends see this as nothing short of treason – but that doesn’t bother me. Here I was introduced to a style of rugby that was both exciting to watch and, more importantly, available for all to play well.
So what will this Wold Cup tournament bring New Zealand? Well, this time I hope it will be a realistic expectation of what it takes to win and a mature attitude whatever result we achieve. Remember how bad the country reacted when John Hart and his team failed to deliver in 1995 after the final with South Africa? That wasn’t pretty.
Nevertheless, 2011 has been a year that should put any result into some context. It has been a year with an unfair proportion of natural disasters and workplace tragedies. We’ve experienced those going through life and death experiences. We’ve seen how these are raw, hard, emotional, life-changing events that had us all looking at our TV screens and shaking our heads in disbelief as fires burnt deep underground and people covered in the dust of shattered Christchurch buildings were led towards help. Any loss on a rugby field shouldn’t really matter that much after going through all this.
So, it must be time to have some fun and let loose to enjoy ourselves for the next two months. Yell for your team. Welcome those new to the country. And it would be nice to have us all on our feet at the one time shouting as an All Black winger runs the length of the field, swatting opposition players in their path.