It’s all been happening here – upsets, scandals, suspensions, injuries, ladies-only jelly wrestling, strip pillow fights, madness and mayhem on and off the pitch – and the papers and public are having a field day.
The biggest news, though, hasn’t been the dimly-lit video footage of a certain hubby with royal connections enjoying a late-night party in a back packers’ booze bar in Queenstown. Rather it’s been the epic clash at Eden Park between the Irish and the Wallabies and the Irish victory on Saturday night.
The headlines here declare an “upset” in the Rugby World Cup. It wisnae an upset – the Irish were the better team and were always the better team – end of. Or at least that’s what the armchair critics are saying.
For the Kiwis, the result was like Christmas coming early. There’s always been good-humoured rivalry between Australia and New Zealand when it comes to sport (well, anything really) and over here, the Aussies always need taking down a peg or two.
“We don’t want any Aussies swaggering around here,” said one Kiwi sports journalist the other day as he contemplated the impossible: the Webb Ellis trophy going across the Tasman.
New Zealand has always lived in the shadow of her much bigger and brasher cousin and when Kiwis travel abroad, they aren’t so chuffed when people hear their accent and ask which part of Australia they come from.
Australia is only three hours away by plane and with its large labour force and much higher wages, many New Zealanders go and live there to earn enough money so that they can return home and live a little easier.
Living in New Zealand can become something of a trade-off between the temptations that Oz offers compared with the desire to live a quieter, more peaceful, greener, healthier life, with a temperate climate in a country which has a smaller population and far fewer cars on the road, except in the cities. Yield not to temptation.
Mayhem arrived in Auckland on the opening day of the tournament.
“Leave your cars at home, take the train” was the advice from the city council and the organisers. That’s what people did – and they got nowhere. Over 200,000 people converged on the city and the transport system buckled. The whole of NZ was embarrassed and angry with the council.
Heads haven’t rolled yet, so nothing new there. The transport and crowd organisation of future matches has been taken over by the government in the hope the same doesn’t happen again.
The Scotland squad are going down a treat over here, not just for having nine points in the bag after two wins. Along with the Irish and the Welsh, whose victory against the Springboks was controversially snatched from them, Kiwis love the Celts, not least because of their shared history.
I caught up with Scotland backs coach, one of our Border lads, Gregor Townsend, earlier this week. He’s feeling very optimistic about the next match against Argentina. He says it was beneficial that the squad trained in the Aussie Gold Coast before arriving in NZ – the jet lag was overcome and everyone got acclimatised to the new time zone and climate.
Since they’ve been here, they have been in serious training, enjoying the Kiwi hospitality and going to the inevitable round of press conferences with invitations to attend all kinds of events. A delegation from the squad visited Christchurch last week, taking a cheque for £45,000 raised at a farewell dinner in Scotland for the earthquake appeal.
Christchurch was to have hosted several matches, including the Scotland-Argentina game, but sadly, the earthquake put paid to all of that. The people of Christchurch were touched by the generosity of the Scots.
“It was good to be able to support the people there and let them know that Scots back home are thinking of them,” said Gregor. The team are looking forward to the next two matches, against Argentina and England, with great optimism and with a determination to win. Quarter finals here we come!
Their stay in Southland was like a home away from home. The hospitality was nothing short of amazing as the sound of the bagpipes filled the Invercargill air and the kilted mass of supporters rooted for the team. The squad are now in Wellington ahead of the game on Sunday.
“For many in the team, this is their first time in NZ and with the great welcome they received in Invercargill and now in Wellington, the guys have been touched by the strength of the Kiwi welcome and friendliness,” enthused Gregor.
Wellington, the capital city of NZ, is known as Windy Wellington because of its wild weather. The squad were greeted with strong gusting winds, sunshine, heavy rain and an earthquake tremor 20km north of Wellington which was felt in that city and here in Picton. They don’t call NZ “the shaky isles” for nothing.
At least they weren’t subjected to seeing the controversial Wellywood sign as their plane touched down at the airport.
A few months ago, the Wellington Airport company came up with the half-baked idea of erecting a Hollywood-style Wellywood sign on a hillside so that air passengers could see it as they landed at the capital city. Yet another public outcry, so in its place for the duration of the RWC, goes a 40-metre All Blacks sign.
“This is an unmissable opportunity to let international visitors know just how excited we are about the tournament and how supportive we are of the All Blacks,” said the chief executive of the airport. Somehow, I don’t think we need a sign to state the obvious. Wellington though, weather apart, is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city. Lonely Planet has called it the “coolest little capital in the world” and among the top 10 cities in the world to be visited.
If the Tardis had landed in Nelson, a small city at the top of the South Island, on Tuesday this week, the good doctor would have thought he was in Victorian Britain. History came alive when the first game of rugby played in New Zealand on May 14, 1870, was re-enacted in exactly the same place as it had been all those years ago. All things Victorian were the order of the day including many folks turning up in period costume. Very music hall.
There were brass bands, morris dancers, penny-farthing races, horse-drawn carriages and a feast of food from pies to toasted nuts to Devonshire cream teas.
The Nelson rugby team took on Nelson College following the original rules with 18 players each side: ten forwards, three half backs, three three-quarters and two full backs. Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school in New Zealand, with a string of famous old boys, including Charles Monro, the father of New Zealand rugby. Replica uniforms and a replica leather rugby ball completed the nostalgia.
With immense pride in our hearts at their success so far, we hope for another Scotland victory against Argentina on Sunday, followed by a trouncing of the England team in Auckland.
Gavin Hastings is commentating on the matches for Maori TV, the only channel covering every game, free. It’s great to hear his voice and he’s doing an excellent job. I grew up, though, listening to the Voice of Rugby, the late, great Bill McLaren, that famous and much loved son of Hawick and of Scotland. Don’t we all miss him?