After the rugby ball is over

by Fiona Rae / 31 October, 2011
Like Richie McCaw, we’re all absolutely shagged, but it was worth it.

Thank goodness. The most important game in the history of rugby is concluded and we can go back to normal. And by “normal”, I mean a future of unparalleled prosperity and free beer for everyone forever.

Winning the Rugby World Cup after 24 years is that awesome, apparently. Six weeks of rugby ending in a result for which a nation – sorry, a stadium – of 4.3 million had been waiting more than two decades. If you believe everything you read, that is. “This is something we’ve dreamed of for a while; we can rest in peace,” said All Blacks coach Graham Henry after the final, apparently inadvertently writing his own eulogy.

Richie McCaw put it more succinctly in his after-match interview: “I’m absolutely shagged.” So were we, mate. It was an excruciating game that seemed designed to give us a collective stomach ulcer, but it was weirdly appropriate that after 24 years of hand-wringing over failures at the intervening six tournaments, the All Blacks would make us wait until the final whistle.

Television coverage was, as it often is with live events, bonkers. Our household mostly stuck with Sky to take full advantage of a newly acquired HD television. Like downtown Auckland, we’d had an upgrade, and although you couldn’t fault the pictures (spidercam!), it was the build-ups that were crazy. Maori TV had one-and-a-half hours’ worth; TV3 went for a more sensible half-hour; but it was TV1 that topped them all with a whopping two hours. That is far too much of Martin Devlin, Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie filling in time, especially with those ADHD-inducing crosses to correspondents in fanzones. My favourite was John McDermott, who seemed to be stuck in a hut somewhere in North Otago with three blondes and a pot-bellied stove. Worse ways to go, I guess.

I can never quite fathom why there is so much time-filling before and after games, although it’s probably just stuff to wrap around the sponsors’ ads. The Sky analysis panel, led by the only female presenter, Melody Robinson (why is she the only woman who can talk about rugby?), carried on after the final for at least another hour. There were crosses back to the ground for more agonising after-game interviews with All Blacks, who either were speechless (Kieran Read), or thanking God (Brad Thorn). Les Bleus captain Thierry Dusautoir was speechless for another reason.

But what a game. A curse had been placed on Piri Weepu’s magic boot, and wonder-boy Israel Dagg, whose potential was described by one rugby writer before the game as “vast as a Canadian prairie” (quoi?) failed to break free of the French defensive line. Our back-up wonder-boy, Aaron Cruden, buggered his leg, Sonny Bill never even touched the ball, and the first points came from prop Tony Woodcock.

The unlikely hero was Stephen Donald, only there because injury had wiped out Henry’s other preferred players. After Donald’s game-saving penalty kick, his Wikipedia entry was quickly rewritten to say he had also slain seven dragons at an RWC after-party and was solely responsible for preventing nuclear war in the North Island.

And so to the analysis, the weighing and the measuring. What did the Rugby World Cup do for us? Well, it’s like the Romans in Life of Brian. There are roads – in Auckland anyway. We’re left with improved “shared use” inner-city lanes, the waterfront is finally opened up for everyone, not just container operators, and there is the vastly improved public space of Wynyard Quarter, which may become the site of a new art gallery. Along those lines, the brilliant renovation of the Auckland Art Gallery was finished in time for the RWC, plus the rail network was upgraded (although apparently not enough), and I’m now riding to work on a nice new bus that includes free Wi-Fi and an annoying voice telling me the name of the next stop. And by the way, can we keep the Cloud? At this point, I don’t care if the RWC cost us money.

The other thing the RWC has done for us is demonstrate we are capable, with only one real whoopsie along the way, of putting on a big tournament. Back in the day, the All Blacks might have had a few quiets before heading back to work on Monday morning. These days, there are parades and parties and fun. Not bad for a country of 4.3 million whose favourite colour is black.
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