Partying like it’s 1999

This post is my entry in Hadyn’s Field Theory: Rugby World Cup stories competition.  I’m unsure what category ‘smart arse behaves immaturely at world cup’ fits into, but here we go. I *did* warn him my entry would be largely about getting shitfaced.

This was the 1999 world cup of John Hart, new jersies and All Black front-row painted jumbo jets, not to mention hubris, over-confidence and pride before a fall. I was living in London at the time and had the ‘pool pack’ of tickets for NZ v Tonga in Bristol, the match versus England at Twickenham and NZ v Italy up at Huddersfield. We were a group of five chaps, mostly from Hamilton, all fans of rugby, travelling, drinking and average behavior. The match against Italy was a jumping off point for a couple of days away in northern cities.

Our bus from London took us along some of the most boring, scenery-free motorways known to man to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. Alfred McAlpine Stadium is a charming stadium, situated in the middle of a charming business park – you sit nice and close to the action, and we cheered and carried on as the All Blacks racked up 101 points to poor old Italy’s 3. Cullen, Lomu and Osborne ran riot – even Dylan Mika got on the scoresheet. It was arguably the peak of the All Blacks’ 1999 campaign – next up was a lackluster quarter final against Scotland and THAT match versus the French. Anyway. Rugby is not really the point of *this* story.

Our little group moved straight out of the stadium to the business park tavern to watch Wales v Samoa on the telly. This was the accumulation period, in cricket terms, where a solid base of fizzy lager pints was laid down, while cheering the Samoans on to their second win world cup win against the Welsh. We weren’t feeling much pain at full time, and it was just a quick stagger to the bus to the train station, stopping only for a quick photo-op with a passing Glen Osborne.

The blogger with Glen Osborne. Companion’s identify concealed to protect the drunk.

I soon found myself wandering alone around a Huddersfield train platform, having lost my companions for a while – they were in the station McDonalds loading up before the night ahead, they told me much later (Cheers! You bastards). Having regrouped, we boarded a train bound for Leeds. This being the UK, it was dark when we got there, and we were soon slipping down Leedside streets fruitlessly looking for a pub – on the way we spotted a huge, flash-looking bus outside a flash hotel. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if that was the All Blacks’ team bus?”someone said. Cue Twilight Zone theme.

We ended up in the Leeds equivalent of a Lone Star, thoughtfully offering a two-for-one happy hour, where more accumulation ensued. From there it was on to a dodgy nightclub, an upstairs, no-windowed affair. Our group was busy being loud witty in a fashion you can only be after 16 pints of lager, when we noticed a group of improbably wide-shouldered guys in matching polo shirts and pleated pants making their way in – it was only the bloody All Blacks! Imagine their surprise, having carefully chosen accommodation away from Huddersfield and getting out to a wee nightclub to unwind away from the glare of a rugby mad public, to see us in our All Black gears with a slurry welcome.

We bowled over to the group of seven or eight players, seemingly lead by Josh Kronfeld and Jeff Wilson, to say g’day. Kronfeld was the friendliest, happy to pose for photos and accept any drinks on offer. Wilson was happy to talk, but seemed to have trouble relaxing, weirdly answering any questions as talking to a post match interviewer. I made a great faux pas, asking Greg Feek, who towered over me by about seven feet, who he was. “Greg Feek,” he said helpfully but sternly, before stalking away.

I was pretty impressed with some of the All Blacks players’ own accumulation, considering this was the middle of the world cup. If you remember, John Hart took the team away to the south of France (the next day, as it turns out) for  ‘frolicking in the surf’ photo ops before heading to Scotland for the quarter final. I can’t remember if we left first, or them, but we were soon on our way – I remember thinking “Won’t it be great when we get home to New Zealand, we can say we were on the piss with the All Blacks when they won the 1999 world cup!” Ahem.

From there, we were back to Leeds station, to get the last train to Manchester, where we were staying. Just to add to the surreality of it all, we found ourselves sharing the lift up to our hotel rooms with Begbie himself, Robert Carlisle, and two lady-friends. “You’re Robert Carlisle!” I said. “No I’m not,” he said. It bloody was, you know.

This was the first of a three-day tour up north – from Manchester we went to Newcastle (“Hey, we’re over here from New Zealand, do you know our long lost cousin – his name is Alan Shearer?”) then Edinburgh (“I know, let’s spend the day in this ancient city having a head-to-head drinking championship of the world!”). It was a lot of fun. More fun than the rugby.

Rugby related round up

Cars with an infeasible number of flags on them. People having fun. Irish blokes at the petrol station. Murray McCully acting like a tool. Campbell Live using their caravan of whinge for something positive. After all the carping and moaning (which some people should get fuck over), we are finally well into this world cup, team.

We’re constantly told we’re a rugby mad nation, and now our real appetite for the egg shaped ball code is being put to the test, with rugby and rugby related material dominating all the channels, all the time. And it’s great. On Sunday of the opening world cup weekend, the conversation at our place went like this:

“OK, so we’ve just watched Australia v Italy, Wales v South Africa is later on… do you want to watch Ireland v USA?”

“Um, yeah?”

“The real question is, do you want to watch six hours of rugby in a row?”

The Tron
I used two of the tickets in my ‘Hamilton’ ‘pack’ to attend live matches. The first was the third of the All Blacks not horrendously injured taking on Japan on Friday night – we had seats in the temporary stands and had an excellent view. The All Blacks played like they wanted to be in the team for next week, mostly. Poor old Colin Slade played like a guy in a Stephen Donald tribute band playing at the Donald’s home.It’s the old cliche, but Hamilton was going off – we had a big night out in a pub right in the middle of town, next to the fan zone, we had no trouble getting to. It was brilliant. Equally brilliant was Wales v Samoa. Where I was expecting our Taro-reared south pacific brothers to put Wales to the sword, smashed-him-bro-wise, Wales tackled the crap out of them – and won it. It was a tense match, with a great ‘atmosphere’, in no small part to two fantastic sets of supporters from opposite sides of the world bought together by the love of the rucking code and the big fucking tournament. Awwwww. My only quibbles were the stadium DJ, of course, who squashed any chance of a sing-song from supporters renowned for their singing ability. I heard the same happened at Eden Park with the Irish. The other quibble is the twats starting Mexican waves about ten minutes into the matches – get over it people, I hear Mexican waves are totally uncool even in Mexico these days.

Public enemy
When you see a battered station wagon with ‘Quade Sucks’ written in electrician’s tape on the door, you know NZ has a new public enemy #1. But I put this to the nation – is Quade Cooper the best we can do? A little chicken-legged bleeder from Tokoroa? For throwing a few handbags at Richie McCaw? Really? It all seems a bit forced to me. Surprisingly, Richie seemed up for it in Brisbane. He got involved where a Colin Meads, say, would have ignored Cooper on the field, before marching into the Aussie changing shed post-game, throwing Quade over his shoulder and taking him back to Te Kuiti to shear him in an unnecessarily rough fashion. Bitch slapping, or indeed shearing, should take place behind closed doors, team.

Other stuff
The star of the cup so far has been the madder-than-a-mad-woman’s-shit Queenstown bouncer, on youtube and outside the Queenstown court. Incredible. More unhinged than a DIY gate I’d have built. Fantastic performance, get him alongside Dobbo or Saviloy.

The rugby world cup Flickr stream is worth a look

If you want to talk opening night ‘debacles’ – Fundy Post is all you need

Haydn is giving away Adidas jerseys with rugby world cup stories – most of mine, unfortunately involve getting shitfaced

All Black jousting training possible source of injuries

NEWSDESK: All Black coach Graham Henry could not rule out a link between the All Blacks’ injury toll and the full contact jousting sessions that took place in closed door training this week. “People have questioned the wisdom of the boys going 25Ks an hour at each other on horseback carrying heavy lances, trying knock each other off by way of a blow to the head or torso during the world cup,” said Henry, adding: “We did give them shields.”

Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Mils Muliaina and Israel Dagg are all out injured after taking part in the ancient martial sport that gained popularity in the 12th century, while Richard Kahui, who has a suspected broken face, is bracketed with Zac Guilford. “You have to balance the strength and hand-eye co-ordination benefits jousting training provides with the risk of spraining, crushing and stabbing injuries,” said Henry. “We’re reviewing it.”

Steve Hanson said he had good results with jousting training with Canterbury. “You learn a lot about your team mates when they’re trying to put a hole in you. Everyone wanted to have a go against Justin Marshall for some reason – shit, some of the boys have asked if he’s available now.”

Hanson denied reports Andrew Hore had gone rogue somewhere in Hamilton’s north western suburbs with a mace.

There’s a World Cup on

A giant rugby ball and flaccid snake have been plonked on the waterfront, Aucklanders are considering  using  public transport and the sun is shining. There must be a world cup on.

We are ready, despite making the basic error of angst-ing for months over what the poor, poor hoardes of flat-cap and scarf wearing northern hemisphere rugger fans will do in little old NZ, when they turn up looking to eat, drink, sing in large groups and ride trains and that. Our inauspicious build up has mostly centred on Waterfront stadiums, armchair commentary on corporate PR shenanigans, Party Central, a shadowy world cup minister, people waiting for up to THREE OR FOUR MINUTES EACH to walk onto a train after August’s Bledisloe test.

Fuck that shit – the world cup, the bloody world cup is here at last, and people are starting to get excited.  John Campbell being cheerfully molested by the Tongan fans at Auckland Airport is the image of the cup so far. RWC CEO Martin Sneddon, who must have been wistfully reminiscing about the carefree days of being carted for 105 from 12 overs v England, is actually starting to smile and look relaxed. People from all around the world are about to arrive in little ol’ here, and will want to have some fun.

Auckland has scrubbed up nicely, with a shiny new Wynard Quarter, tram and bridge installed in time for the cup. Suburbs are adopting teams – my cycle commute through Milford and Takapuna saw a few token French flags (there’ll be more once we waste them in pool play I bet) (ahem). My only slight concern is the special Fan Walk to Eden Park and back – it’s a long way to go! If I can offer advice, after my own experience of walking into town after the third Lions test in 2005 – you are advised to be very, very drunk.

Party Central – road cones for drinking out of and a rugby ball-shaped urinal

Of course the elephant in the room is our losing world cup record since last time it was here. An elephant that’s shat all over the floor, broken the couch with its trunk before charging through the wall and bolting. No tidied up waterfront will help our desperate, crushing expectation that FINALLY, Richie or his injury-appointed deputy will lift the cup at home. I just worry that Fear Of Fucking Up (or FOFU) will diminish Kiwis’ hosting enjoyment – that we won’t relax and get into this world cup until after it’s over. We are not good losers, or winners, and how we handle a world cup triumph or defeat at home will test our very nationhood, frankly. I hope it goes well.

So, can we win it? Of course we can. My personal All Blacks world cup theory is that once we win a world cup again (I really hope it’s this one), we’ll win four or five in a row, until people are sick of it and change the rules somehow. Can’t wait.

All Black selectors get drunk, select backline

NEWSDESK: All Black selectors confirmed they were “pretty wasted” when selecting the team to face Tonga. Forwards coach Steve Hansen told a packed press conference: “We had a few selection headaches, so Smithy brought a box of Woody’s. It all kicked on from there.”

A lightly kebab-stained team sheet revealed the surprise combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu, and the inclusion of Isaia Toeava. “I was as surprised as anyone to see Kahui on the wing. Lucky Kronic has been banned, it could have been Mils at centre!” said Hansen.

“We looked at the whole squad, their form, the combinations… then we got fucko. One minute we’re discussing Conrad’s defence vs Sonny Bill’s offload, next thing I’m arguing with a bouncer about the club shutting at 5am. I wasn’t even up for a biggy!” said head coach Graham Henry. When asked if rotating the squad at this stage was dooming the team to repeat the mistakes of 2007’s early exit, a clearly tired and emotional Henry replied “Fight you,” before falling asleep awkwardly on his microphone.