Other Matters

I was covering the last world cup in New Zealand and this meant a week in Auckland for both semifinals and then the last two games. But those were on weekends, this meant I had a whole week in between with nothing to do, so I decided to head home for a short break at my Mum’s place in Tauranga.

For those who don’t recall or aren’t from New Zealand, the biggest news behind the world cup was an environmental disaster called The Rena. A cargo ship, run aground and leaking tonnes of oil onto a white sand beach resort. In my head this was my beach.

While the rest of the country’s papers were headlined everyday with even the dullest of rugby stories, in Tauranga every front page was The Rena. When I arrived these were the stats on the front page…

  • 1346 tonnes of oil remain on the ship.
  • 350 tonnes has been lost into the ocean
  • 5000 volunteers are registered to help
  • 500 volunteers were used over the weekend at Papamoa and Maketu
  • 618 tonnes of oily sand removed
  • 181 live birds are being treated after being covered with oil
  • 1250 birds were found dead
  • $3.5million has already been spent on clean up.

…not tackles and metres gained.

Rugby is sport, and sport is, at it’s heart, just a form of entertainment. A diversion. This was people’s livelihoods, from tourism to fishing, not to mention the massive environmental impact.

I took a walk in the sunshine along the main section of the beach that had just been reopened and saw thick black patties of oil everywhere. the water looked sparkling and clear, but I was told the dispersant used kept the oil just below the surface so it was still there just harder to see.

The signs were clear: the main Mount beach was open, but the water was closed. This did not mean the beach was empty. The sun was shining for a time and there were quite a few tourists around and kids playing everywhere. Some rather clever person had written huge letters in the sand spelling out “Clean Me”.

It was surreal. Black everywhere. From the flags of All Black supporters to oil strewn beaches.

Four years later, the wreck is still there. The company that owns it has petitioned to leave it there, paying a few million dollars to leave the rotting ship on the seabed. “Four more years” takes a completely different meaning.

Mount Beach

Shared by Hadyn

“Four more years… “

2003 Semi-finals – Telstra Stadium

Australia 22 – All Blacks 10

A classic moment in a classic game.

Though actually it would be another eight.

This moment followed…

(you’ll need to skip forward to about 1’11” unless you like the Strayan anthem)

George Gregan.

I think his first name was actually Bloody or something a bit stronger beginning with ‘F’ and ending with ‘Arken’.

A thorn in our side for years, but one of the finest players to have graced the game.

The only redeeming feature of the this match was that they went on to lose the final.

At home.

By a drop goal.

Against England.

I think that would have been more humiliating than going out of their own tournament in the semi’s to us.

Contributed by Dom Gibbs

 

“… that’s my mate”

2007 Quarter-finals

England 12  – Australia 10

I’d been at the England v Aus game that afternoon (I’m Welsh) in Marseille and was on the ale in Avignon watching France beat New Zealand.

I made ‘friends’ with an Australian girl that evening that lived in the UK and made plans to go see her (so we could be um…. friendly again) at least once more.

Next day was Fiji v SA (I had tickets as I had hoped this was the QF that Wales would be in) and I put all such earthly distractions out of my head….quite far out of my head as it happens.

I get home and myself and the friendly Aussie girl exchange emails and she sends me a photo of her and I (and her mate) drunk as lords the evening we met, she is holding a bottle of wine and has a Green and Gold scarf round her neck.

So I email back to confirm my travel arrangements and comment that I hope she’ll have better dress sense when she comes to meet me as that scarf shouldn’t really been seen in decent company.

Her final email to me is to confirm she’ll see me at some pub at 7:30, she is looking forward to seeing me that night and by the way … ….

“… thats not me with the scarf on, that’s my mate….”

As it happens she saw the funny side and friended me to within an inch of my life that weekend.

Contributed by Adam Daniel

Sympathy baguettes

“There. Sorry, but that was forward.”

Radio journalists, everywhere we go, we record what we call “buzz track” or “wild track”. It’s the sound you don’t notice – the dull roar of a crowd, traffic, the murmur of conversations or the shouts of a protest. It’s what gives life and context to the things we do, so we don’t sound like we’re sitting in a studio, when really we were recording the interview amid the machinery of a factory.

Back in 2007, I was a junior reporter, and so conscientious I left my microphone open for most of the second half of the All Blacks being dumped ignominiously out of the Rugby World Cup by France in Cardiff.

As I started to write my piece, buzz playing gently in my ears because I’d forgotten to pause the track, there was my own voice railing against Wayne Barnes’ failure to call that forward pass.

It had seemed like such a sweet gig. Early morning, some coffee, a croissant. I am pretty sure there was freshly squeezed orange juice, and if there wasn’t it wasn’t because my hosts, the Wellington Alliance Française weren’t extremely gracious.

On the other hand, I was likely a complete asshole. Supremely confident the All Blacks would walk all over Les Bleus, what seemed to me like “gentle mocking” was probably more like outright gloating. Which meant that the French kindness when we were losing was even more galling.

I remember sitting at the back of the room, head in hands, and a Kiwi photographer leaning over and telling me it would be OK. Not in a “life goes on, this too shall pass” way, but more “calm down love, it’s just rugby.” He spurred me out of my seat, to conduct my final interview.

It was that photographer I was talking to when I complained about that forward pass. Had I been watching at the pub with my friends, the language used would not have been suitable for broadcast, so silver linings?

Looking back now, that forward pass wasn’t what lost the All Blacks the match, but then, rather than blame the selection policy, the weird bias against dropkicks or the All Blacks just not being good enough, it made more sense to blame Barnes. After all, we were best in the world, weren’t we?

I am old enough that I vaguely remember 1987 but most of my memory involves being confused between rugby and soccer and getting into a fight with my brother that there had been Rugby World Cups before. I grew up around rugby, and rugby players, so the RWC was there for my whole life. By the time 1999 rolled around, I was watching in my pyjamas in a lecture hall at university. I was frustrated by the country’s obsession with the sport, so I was almost gleeful when France beat ‘us’ then, too.

2007 was the first time I remember caring in a non-academic way. It was the first time I was invested in a game – the first time I understood what my Dad had been thinking all this time. And they let me down.

Trudging back to work after the lovely French people had consoled me (and offered me baguettes to take back to the newsroom – an offer you can imagine I accepted with grace and dignity), I ran into a family walking up Lambton Quay. I asked if I could interview them for a vox pop, but it turned out they were Australian. “Oh, you’ll understand how I am feeling then,” I said.

One of them, a teenage girl, leaned close to me and said “Yeah, but we lost to England. You lost to France. That’s so much worse.”

***

Radio New Zealand’s rugby reporter Barry Guy was in Cardiff, and we struggled to get him on on air for a major bulletin after the game. Not because he was overly emotional, but because his hotel room didn’t have a phone or internet, so he had to do it from a payphone down the road. To add insult to injury he had to stay on for the final.

I asked him about it the other day, and his main memory was that all the French journos were really nice to him, saying how much they loved the All Blacks, and wanted them to be in the final. Les bastards.

Back in the newsroom, we hadn’t even really prepared for a loss. I turned my “sorry, but that was forward” grab into a package, and we got the the inevitable dissection of ‘what went wrong’. (Answer: sports.) I did about 10 live crosses to radio stations all over the world. (Possibly just to reassure them that the country wasn’t literally on fire.)

The All Blacks have said this week they’re not thinking about revenge, and let’s face it, we got that at Eden Park in 2011. But if they were to just make doubly sure that the demons of 2007 were well exorcised this weekend [Ed note: and they CERTAINLY did!], there is a bunch of us who wouldn’t complain.

Contributed by Megan

On embracing a fantastic rivalry

There’s something New Zealanders need to do as a rugby nation. We need to celebrate our rivalry with France, like we do with South Africa and Australia. They more than deserve it.

When the All Blacks won the 1987 tournament against France I was 8 years young.  All I knew was that the All Blacks won, and that from the way my father talked about it, so we should have.

My dad is 65. That means his version of Richie McCaw, is Colin Meads, who never played in or won a RWC. Didn’t need to. Dad grew up in Parakao, a tiny Northland location in the Mangakahia valley, west of Whangarei. So his other heroes are players with names like Peter Jones, Joe Morgan and Sid Going. Those guys never won a world title either. They, like Meads, went on tours and played against touring teams, events that foster relationships between teams and fans, which breeds mutual respect and kinship.

My brother and I grew up near Whangamata, unable to watch TV until SKY became available, because of the volcanic hills. We did get to watch a fair bit of rugby on TV though, because of dad’s love for the game. Looking back there were some fortuitously timed trips to see relatives. Well played, dad. And thanks.

I was made aware as soon as I could start to understand the game that some monsters existed in a place called South Africa, but they weren’t allowed to play because of something called Apartheid. I learned of a time that dad and his brothers would listen on the radio in my grandfather’s cowshed, as the smaller but more skilled players we sent to this mysterious place took on a bunch of giants with weird names.

At least we still had the Australians, in their canary yellow and mould green shorts, to provide a rivalry.

We also had another great generation of players to watch. My rugby hero was Number 8 Zinzan Brooke, to me still the greatest rugby all-rounder to ever lace boots. A forward too, importantly.

My rugby world for the most part was pretty awesome, the All Blacks won the 1987 World Cup, which I don’t really remember. Sure, they lost to the Aussies at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, which I only remember because my uncle swore about it. Other than that they pretty much won a lot.

And then in 1994 the French visited and beat the All Blacks on home turf. Twice. I was 15 and rugby was pretty high on my list of stuff that mattered, and I was confused. What was going on? Who were these tricky stepping moustache wearing dudes that didn’t care about how many times we’d thrashed everyone else?

Oddly, my father wasn’t that shocked. He was grumpy, sure. Same with my grandfather on my mum’s side, and most of my uncles. But they didn’t “hate” the French for it (Still don’t – apart from the eye-gouging thing. I’m pretty sure even Gandhi would have struggled to be okay with that feral act). That’s not to say they weren’t a bit miserable for a few days.

Weeks.

Okay for a while…

Amongst what was said by many of the rugby people I knew, there was a common and fairly simple theme: “That’s the French, they do that every now and then… They’re just tricky buggers.”

New Zealand’s great rivalry with South Africa was more than saluted in 1995 when both teams made the final. I can’t remember the result of that game but France came in third.

One behind New Zealand.

So I don’t know when it was that certain All Blacks coaches stopped being aware that France can make a defensive strategy resemble a single damp square of one-ply toilet paper. I’m not even sure that they did stop, maybe they just failed to focus their All Blacks side for a team that is notorious for winning against the odds. Or, maybe our somewhat unrecognised rivals outplayed us.

A quick internet search will tell you that they were the first of the Northern Hemisphere teams to tour New Zealand, in 1966. That was before the All Blacks had toured France too.

Les Bleus had first won against us in France in 1954, 48 years after the first game between our nations. They had to wait until 1972 to do it again, and until 1979 to get a first win in New Zealand. Then they won the series in 1994, and flattened us at the RWC 1999 Semi-Final.

That’s actually far less inconsistent than it looks, if you notice the low number of test matches played back then…

Anyway, back to World Cup stuff. Just like most of New Zealand, along with Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, I didn’t see it coming. On the 7th of October, 2007, some guy named Wayne Barnes (he doesn’t even have a middle name. What kind of Englishman doesn’t have middle name?) kitted up and went about ignoring a large proportion of the laws of rugby and physics. He also ruined my November, December, and a large portion of my 2008.

I was living in Britain, where Englishmen jeered at New Zealanders as if the English themselves had won something. How’s the karma, chaps?

The French fans (at least where I was) were almost apologetic, as if they knew they wouldn’t get up for the next two games.

When the All Blacks finally ended the Great Rugby World Cup Drought (1991-2011), French fans didn’t jump on cars or go nuts in the crowd around Auckland. They lost by one point, kicked by fifth choice 1st 5/8th Stephen bloody Donald. They’ve also been to more Rugby World Cup Finals than any other team without winning the damn thing, and they still don’t lose their merde.

Often when I meet a Springbok fan we have a good yarn about the rugby, and it’s respectful. We have history, we’ll say, or there’s tradition there.

When encountering an Australian it’s unlikely they’ll be keen for union chat, but if they do it’ll be good fun, before the New Zealander must make a small acknowledgement of their occasional successful results.

So today, on the eve of the next chapter between the All Blacks of New Zealand and France’s Les Bleus, I’m making a small request: Enough of letting the media fan the flames of fear and mistrust. Let’s embrace our fantastic rivalry. What’s more, let’s push for a full (provincial teams included) tour.

One each way, every three years, before World Cups, so we get a damn good look at them.

Allez les Noirs.

Contributed by Sam