Tuesday, 25 October 2011

RWC 2011 FINAL: From the not so cheap seats.

Me, Bale ... and 61,077 of our closest friends.
That is the most tense, frightening, exciting, cacaphonous, clock-defying, tightest game of Test rugby I have ever had to sit through ... but my seat at Eden Park was a bloody fantastic one, so I survived.

History, baby! And after 24 years, New Zealand has not only regained the Rugby World Cup ... but we have replaced the Kiwi as our national animal with the Beaver.

So much has been written already that I don’t feel I have to go over the game in depth, we have all seen it, had it burned on our retinas, but there are things that stood out for me. Things I will NEVER forget about October 23 2011.

On the free bus to Eden Park, everyone we saw in their front yards, or walking to friends’ houses or pubs to watch the game was waving at us, like they were acknowledging ticket holders had a bigger role to play in the game. They were encouraging us to do our bit, to lift the All Blacks in person. It was incredible.

Eden Park was stunning, again ... humming with the expectation of not only those headed inside to watch the Final live, but due to being surrounded by informal residents’ shindigs. The RWC volunteers (who have made this Cup) were working overtime to welcome and explain everything to the visitors. My compadre, Bale, and I walked a lap of the ground to check out the scenes before going in, as if to cast some anti-French hex on the turf by encircling it. We saw buskers, BBQs, French fans mingling with All Black fans ... all taking turns in front of both the Michael Jones and Dave Gallagher statues for photos. Festivale!

Heading to our seats ... no upgrade required.
Inside, the seats were worth the Category A price tag: top tier, front row, on the All Blacks’ starting 22 line. Our vista rivalled that of the TV cameras; we were looking down on SpiderCam! Our location also gave us full aural and visual 360 for the game; the rise and fall of collective emotions in the crowd, the shared sense of elation that seemed for a brief period in the second half that it would take a parabolic dive into ashen-faced despair. Again. Quadrenially by appointment.

Not this time though. The French fans could not maintain any real presence vocally. Right from anthems, the All Black fans never gave up. Last week for the semi-final I had never heard a louder anthem sung by New Zealand fans ... and on Sunday night it went up another notch. We’d not beat the Welsh for pitch perfectness ... but for volume and pride we blew out to a new benchmark. Stunning.

I loved the French response to the haka: they get it. It is not disrespectful to challenge it back at all, and they, alone, keep coming up with their own way to gain an edge against it. Any IRB fine for crossing halfway is just petty.

There was no hesitation to cheer Stephen Donald when he strode forward to take THAT penalty. Everyone knew he was the man for the job, everyone screamed him on. And the cheer that followed that was titanic.

After that, things got blurry ... not due to booze at all, but to adrenaline? Stress? Live, I felt it was a lot more one-sided to France after their try than I think it actually was (having watched a replay now). One millisecond of madness by Weepu to chip pass the ball at the base of a ruck led to a French advance, an All Black scramble, and Dusautoir’s try. However, that closing up of the score to a one point margin produced an amazing last half hour.

Man France were good. Hold up a black jersey in front of Les Bleus and you get a primal,  Pavlovian response. Their loose trio of Harinordoquy, Dusautoir and Bonnaire are brilliant, they kept France in it during the first half.

8-7 belies the quality of that game. There was as much to please the old school purists and enough intent to entertain the expansive rugby fans. It may not have all come off, but I think it was a great exhibition of finals rugby that I think did justice to the rules as they stand, and to a ref that interpreted them to allow a game to flow.

We saw two sets of brilliant tight fives, the World’s two best loose trios, and an assemblage of some of rugby’s most talented backs. I loved that there were rucks, then counter-rucks ... then counter-counter-rucks. It was a competition for the ball, and that is the entire basis of rugby isn’t it?

I was in Cardiff in 2007, and the tangible anger that surged through AB fans as that game slipped away from us was not present this year, even as things looked grim at 8-7 ... there was creeping disbelief and stress, but I never felt it was gone or hopeless this time. That hope rumbled and surged back in the last 10 and when we got the ball back, and ran the clock down with those pick and gos from the 76th minute on, the crowd began to party.

And we all stayed there for another hour. Last one out turn out the lights.

Other gems: Jock Hobbs’ cheer was 3x bigger than John Keys’; the appreciative roar given to France when they got their medals; the din when the All Blacks went up to get their medals; Andrew Hore immediately checking if the Cup’s lid came off; Brad Thorn’s fist pumping; Ma’a Nonu demanding Vito surrender his coat to keep his son Mercury warm.

My moment of the night? After the Cup was lifted, when we spotted Cory Jane and Israel Dagg breaking away from the group, running like ratbags (to a Takapuna Bar perhaps?) to lie in the the fallen silver confetti to do snow angels. Awesome.

I will never, ever forget that night.

“Those last J├Ąger Bombs really messed me up”


Anonymous said...

Hi Guys
Just wanted to say I've really enjoyed following you on Twitter through the cup - holy hell, what a ride!

By far and away the best cup I've seen, for so many reasons. Great final reports from both of you - summed up so well all my anxiety, pride, fear and confidence during the game. From the moment I saw the French advance I knew it was going to be an epic match and it certainly didn't disappoint. So much to say about the whole competition.... but basically, *phew*. Oh and also a heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Richie, Ted and the boys. Life has certainly seemed a little brighter since Sunday night.

Cheers for the coverage, looking forward to more.
p.s. your graphs are noes plastered all over my workplace (betting agency) and made for some hot points of discussion!

Nursedude said...

Great stuff, Lu. Great post and great pics. You should make a poster of the stadium shot.

I think it's shitty that the IRB fined France for their facedown of the Haka. I love the sport of rugby, but the IRB can kiss my ass.

Once again, had a great time in Kiwi-land, glad that the missus and I were able to meet you and your bride. It must feel great to get that Gorilla off your back.

Team Dave said...

Thanks for the awesome post Slugso. You are so lucky to have gone to the final. Was truly an amazing game.

Like you I wasn't that worried. I was at the game in '99 against France and that was a true capitulation. I think I am one of the few people in the world who thinks it was a very even game and that France didn't do enough to win. One moment of madness from Weepu let them into the game, but until then and for much of after that the ball stayed pretty much around the halfway line regardless of who was in possession.

It was such a relief to win at last. Something that better teams than this one were unable to do and so many upsets and terrible bad luck over the years since '87. Did you cry?

slugso said...

Team Dave - actually I agree. I really don't buy that 'France were the better team on the park' argument. I think they came up to our level and it was very even, plus we lacked a little intensity.

Shelled 8 points with the boot too.

Should have bought the Beaver on sooner!