Thursday, 30 August 2007

Nervous as the Nineties

No hiding this time. In 1999 I was living in the UK, but chose to spend my cash on a trip home rather than sojourns to sunny Huddersfiled to watch World Cup Games. Somehow the lure of Central America was greater than Hart's All Blacks. Not because I was anti the team; I just think that first 3 years in London had disconnected me from rugby a bit. Now, after another 5 year spell in NZ watching NPC & Super 12, I am fanatical again ... and this time round we have even managed to see the All Blacks play here and in France which can't be beat. Last year we even had primo seats at the new Twickers courtesy of the other half's 3 month stint as a contractor at the RFU. The ultimate mole!

Back in '99 I actually believed we had won the semi against France. I was with my mates Ewen & Jenn, travelling through Mexico & Guatemala during that World Cup, and the last report on the game we got was that we were up at half time, looking good and Big Jonah was going crazy. So while I was sunning it up in Tulum, blissfully ignorant of the final score for three days (news broken by gloating Englishman), AB fans were elsewhere venting their spleens. I didn't have a scooby. I still have the draw I took in my diary, taped on the inside back cover; it has NZ inked in as a finalist. Sad, eh?

Fast forward 8 years: I'm back in London, with a MasterCard maxed out to buy All Black tickets and after one score years, its time to correct our past failings, and put that crap about 'choking' to bed for good. I honestly believe we are as well prepard as we can be. Sure it would be nice to have Tana's old head in the back line, and a bit more game time with centre combinations, but the squad Ted has built up is the envy of the rugby world. I think only France can match us in the potential of their 30 players. Other teams like England and South Africa may try and batter their way through the knockouts, but us and Les Bleus are clear faves ... all we have to is get past those Wallabies. And I have a cunning plan ...

Reschedule the match for midnight - its past their bedtime!

In the UK press today: Guardian: "Since the last World Cup, Graham Henry's men have won 34 of 39 Tests, inflicted a record defeat on the British and Irish Lions and won the southern hemisphere's premier event, the Tri-Nations, three years in a row. They are unbeaten against European nations for over four years and in that time have handed England and France their heaviest home defeats." 'Nuff said.

And the Independent - just when I sometimes begin to nod approval at their coverage they write drivel like this "the Guinness Premiership – firmly established as the leading domestic tournament in the game and envied by every major rugby nation with the single exception of France, who have a thriving league of their own". The only thing I envy about English rugby is its modesty and humility.

Still, the rugby world must look different to them, they are looking up from seventh place. Swing low indeed ;0)

Player Poaching

Here in the UK, when reading what is passed off as rugby journalism, you constantly get annoyed by pointless references to the NZRU 'poaching' players from the Pacific Islands. Its a tired argument, offered up by frustrated Englishmen, and in particular, one confused Welshman at The Times.

Lately the flip-flop is on the other foot though. As if Guinness Premiership beer barons snapping up all our All Blacks for their bloated domestic squads was not bad enough, now our Ballroom Dancing talent is being pinched by an Old Blighty desparate for any slice of glory over their sausage eating foes.

I hope Brendan Cole will be watching the rugby. He may even have a pair or two of Dan Carter briefs for good luck. Then again, these dancers probably go Commando.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Let The Games Begin!

After crossing off the days to the World Cup all year, it's suddenly upon us! Time to start the packing checklist:
  1. Large sunglasses (so to be mistaken for minor celebrity) - Check
  2. Large binoculars (for staking out the ABs hotel pool) - Check
  3. Palmy Army T-shirt (thanks Lorraine!) - Check
  4. Lucky All Blacks jersey (lucky because it is a kids one and therefore was a bargain!) - Check
  5. Jandals (what kiwi leaves home without them?) - Check
I will blend in with the locals perfectly, aye?

NB: Must leave room for booty from St Tropez shopping explorations

We're really looking forward to returning to the land of pain au chocolat and croissants, Amelie and Delicatessen, saucisson and fromage. We're being joined by various mad friends along the way, so am sure we will have plenty to report.

So, first to Marseille - we're looking forward to being by the sea, to eating boullabaisse, and to exploring the oldest city in France. And of course to see Richie and the boys in action against Italy. We're staying in the same town as they are...hence the need for aforementioned binoculars....

The Old Red Rooster

The chicken has roared, and pounded the Dragon.

I think France and the All Blacks must now head in as favourites, followed by South Africa whose build up has been slightly less solid, but not confidence shattering. Los Pumas must also be happy, but England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland have all been given wake up calls in the last few weeks that definitely expose both their lack of cohesion at Test level and also their squad depth one week out. Better chances for Italy and/or Samoa now getting through to the knockouts? Who knows.

Wouldn't an NZ v France final be fairytale-like? Great for the game to see that final, and JC going toe to toe with big Seb Chabal again.

And as for Waikato? Wow, hats off, Mooloo. I can almost hear Griff screaming "Go for fifty, Waikato!!!" from where I sit typing this in London. They got the 50 points, and the Log of Wood.

And one more strange Mooloo linked item: Mitch defends McCaw.

Unfortunately, I saw none of the above games as we were up in the Cotswolds for Bank Holiday (why don't public holidays have names in the UK?), in a quiet spot called Kingham, eating and drinking the best local produce we could find. And there was lots of it. Its more like rugby territory up there, but try telling that to these guys.

I am taking this as a good omen.

26 degrees in Marseilles today ...

Friday, 24 August 2007


The English summer has been appalling. Even by the usual standards of Kiwi's bagging things British, this year the arrival of summer has been as slow as the English pack to a breakdown.

Me and the missus have starved ourselves of summer hols so far to take in all the All Black pool games, Quarter Final, and (touch Woodcock) the Semi Final ... passing on a return to our favourite music festival or Bridget Jones-style 'minibreaks' to scrimp pennies and paid leave for what we hope is a winning tournament in La Belle France.

Even my Dad is here at the moment, and he is planning to leave early so he can get to Honolulu and watch the early rounds from a swimming pool bar, rather than down at the King's Queen's Nag's Horse's Head with flat ale, and a damp umbrella tucked between his feet.

But late next week, we head off to Provence: first to Marseilles, then Lyon for the games against Italy and Portugal respectively. And that's just up the road from what is now Umaga Country - Toulon.

France. Choice. Nothing like a Rugby World Cup in a rugby country. No disrespect to Ole' Blighty, but here the game loses battle with football by such a massive margin that trips to France or Wales to see New Zealand play are very special. Raucous, hilarious occasions where the UK ex-pats show off all that is best (or worst) about a few thousand liquor-fuelled Kiwis in a confined space. Last November's game against France in Lyon was brilliant, not just because of the scoreline, but due to the three or four thousand Exponents-singing All Black fans. Even Earl Kirton joined in.

Can't wait. Kia kaha.