It’s full of stars

The French, eh? The wine! The cheese! The shrugging! The ability to make you crap your pants in a rugby world cup context! All week our sporting media had been telling us the All Blacks just had to show up not too hungover on Sunday night, and the cup would be ours. Our sporting media were talking out their sausage rolls.

In fairness, we got a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink ‘never under-estimate the French’ thrown around during the week, but nothing that was going to actually wreck anyone’s post-Aussie-wasting buzz. That was left to the French team themselves, who showed up ready to play. Play they did, treating the All Blacks like a faulty keyboard, and hitting them just as hard. Tony Woodcock’s try calmed the nerves somewhat, but Woolly Valley’s Piri Weepu, who’d featured on more T-shirts than tomato sauce during the week, didn’t have his kicking boots on. Still, things were still roughly going to plan until Aaron Cruden started writhing about on the grass.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” said Grant Nisbett in a slightly horrified manner as Stephen Donald took his tracksuit off. is on record as a fan of the Waiuku wonder (ahem), but even I was bricking it. The Bath-bound Waikato first five, whose style of play can best be described as ‘elbow-y’ was our only hope, our oval ball Obi-Wan. But god love him, there he was, charging on with a look of steely determination, just as most New Zealanders started thinking about hiding behind the couch.

Donald made a decent little break and run. He got his kick. Thank fuck. And he was part of a second half defense-orientated All Black performance that would have Chris ‘ocker shocker’ Rattue calling for Robbie Deans even more than he does now, but was precisely what was called for on the night. Looking at our performances from the quarters on, it seems we were doing our best England 2003 impression, relying on a battle-scarred forward pack to belt the opposition and play it tight, with heaps of kicking. It’s all pretty un-New Zealand, but I couldn’t care less. Finally we discovered we, too, can play finals-style rugby and in doing so, we put ourselves in position to win it.

Having said that, I doubt I’ve enjoyed a game of rugby less. I was thinking of my mate Mike, who was at Twickenham in 1999 and Cardiff in 2007 to see France dump us out – he was there on Sunday and I hope he screamed like I did when we got possession back four minutes from time. The French had battered us in prime drop goal or penalty territory for most of the second half, sending me into a mood darker than Grizz Wylie discovering a smashed bottle of scotch in the boot, but suddenly it was on – maybe that point would be enough. Stephen Donald, who missed finding touch in Hong Kong that time, played it comically safe booting it out. We won the line out, rumbled it up, then got the penalty. I saw stars.

Jeff Wilson spewing in Johannesburg, dwarf-sized Frenchmen dancing around the Twickenham turf, John Mitchell being surly at press conferences and Wayne fucking Barnes don’t matter any more. David Kirk has company.

I promise I will stop going on about it, but I am absolutely made up for Stephen Donald. He’s having a great week. To go out and kick the winning penalty (as it turned out) for his country after being most people’s idea of world cup poison took proper character, guts and steel. From the moment he rejoined the squad, he exuded professionalism and confidence and he must be quietly enjoying showing his critics what he’s really made of on the biggest stage of all. It says a lot about our remarkable depth that we can call up a bloke who was too busy whitebating to answer his phone to the national coach and throw him on the field to win us the world cup. Not many countries could do that, and not many men could do what Stephen Donald did. Fair play to you, Beav.

This week has been all parades and people treating the Webb Ellis cup with the respect it deserves. The thing I’m enjoying the most is the sense of restarting, of nothing mattering any more. If we’d lost, we’d be in the middle of recriminations, Steve Hansen versus Robbie Deans versus Warren Gatland and rugby-related moaning and wailing reaching unprecedented-ly stroppy levels. Fuck all that. We won, and there’s plenty of time to contemplate what happens next. Later. Let’s enjoy the fact that our big party ended the right way, with a party. I still can’t believe it.

Insert ‘semi’ joke here

I realised about halfway through the New Zealand v Argentina quarter final that no matter what Tottenham, the Black Caps or the Chiefs did, NOTHING would make my heart beat faster than the All Blacks in a world cup knock out match. I mean, my heart was LITERALLY beating faster than Corey Jane banging on the door of a pub lock-in. The All Blacks and their sodding inability to win a world cup have ruined me for all other teams.

Like most New Zealanders, I spent the week before the semis talking myself out of it. Our world cup track record is not good, and the Wallabies are more cunning than Gerry Brownlee manoeuvring himself to a buffet across a crowded room. Immaturely, I greeted news of every Australian injury with a fist pump. I wished heavy contact upon the groin of David Pocock. Not good heavy contact.

But feck it – our team is pretty good too. Our captain only needs one leg, Brad Thorn has been flying into rucks like an angry photocopier all tournament, and our midfield is the best around. Piri and our back three are playing like Robert Palmer and a pack of rock chicks. Going into a semi final with Aaron Cruden instead of Dan Carter might seem as likely as John Mitchell subbing for Peter Garrett at a Midnight Oil concert, but he looked more at home than Piri Weepu on Endor. This tactic of having a guy on the sideline chopping piss for the most part of the tournament before being called into the squad may be a winner – I may have made a rugby player if it was around in my day.

On Sunday, Dagg’s running and Nonu’s early try calmed a few nerves, but I didn’t relax until about the 77th minute on Sunday night, despite Justin bloody Marshall saying it was in the bag from about the 26th minute. I’ve been hurt too many times by the Eales and Kefus of this world to feel comfortable about the Aussies not staging a Jason-from-Friday-13th style comeback. Our goalkicking, so pinpoint last week, started to look positively Welsh. I spent more time watching the clock and going to the lavatory in a nervous fashion than enjoying our performance in a tight, proper mature finals football semi final win against our great rivals. The All Blacks looked bloody stoked afterwards, and Australia were gracious in defeat, as you do when you come from a grown up country. They played their part as potential party-of-a-nation-cancellers well, and they deserve anything but playing a farcial match against Wales in a half-full Eden Park this week.

So now it’s world cup final week, and like last week, I just want the whole thing over. If we spend this week reading about how we’ll win it and watching the comedy stylings of our national team, then we lose, I will Not Be Able To Handle It. My dream result on Sunday would be a three try opening, leading to a 30 or 40 point thrashing, so we can just cheer the All Blacks the fuck on for 80 minutes, with men storming into the DJ booth and rip the fucking Black Eyed Peas off the decks, so the crowd can chant and sing songs of their own devising in a national rugby catharsis, putting the ‘NZ rugby crowds are quiet’ thing to bed once and for all. This world cup hoodoo has been hanging over us for a long time, team and there’s no doubt this is our best chance to win one since the last time it was here. I wish you well, All Blacks.


In other news, I went to see Wales play France at Eden Park on Saturday night. Everyone remarked how it feels like a proper stadium now, with its temporary stands and Allienz area style lighting on the South Stand. It’s got a proper cavernous-yet-intimate atmosphere and filled with Welsh and French fans, it was raucous and loud. Of course, we were robbed of a proper contest by the referee doing what he was told to, and the fallout seems to be continuing even now. On the night, I knew when the crowd started booing France they had it in the bag – there’s nothing those weasely French love more than being hated. I felt desperately sorry for Wales, and for some better goal kicking, they’d be at this party with us.

Sporting media label All Black break dance press conference ‘unprofessional’

NEWSDESK: Sporting media questioned the All Blacks’ decision to conduct today’s press conference solely through the medium of break dance. Asked about preparations for Sunday’s world cup final, lock Ali Williams performed a series of wild airflares, followed by a toprock reverse airbaby off a table. Asked to expand on his response, Williams performed an elbow chair.

“I turned up expecting some real insight before such a crucial match, not some guy laying out lino and spinning around on it. It’s unprofessional,” said rugby  journalist Fred Sauce-Tie. “It’s the worst press conference since John Eales did rhythmic gymnastics in Brisbane that time.”

Breakdancing, a popular style of street dance that was created and developed as part of hip-hop culture among African Americans and Latino youths in New York City is generally considered a non-traditional media relations channel. However, it proved popular among French media, who tapped their notepads rhythmically while Sonny Bill Williams pulled off a difficult handglide freeze. Reserve first five eighths Stephen Donald did not participate in the breakdancing, performing only light Parkour at the press conference’s conclusion.

World cup wave of emotion

This edition of ‘Ending a Nation’s World Cup Heartbreak’ is starting to read like some kind of sick Hollywood script. Carter OUT! McCaw INJURED! Plucky would-be redemption-guy Slade OUT! Arguably-should-have-been-there-in-the-first-place-guy Gear IN! Old pro Mils CRYING! Jane ON THE PISS! Donald WHITEBAITING! It’s a huge change from the ‘sleep walk through pool games / lose / everyone argue a lot’ scripts we normally get, but it is no good for the nation’s nerves or sense of proportion, team.


The most impressive thing for me about Cruden, Donald and Gear coming into the squad is that they’re fit and ready to go. Faced with sporting rejection and with many, many high class rugby matches to watch, is sure would have spent the last few weeks on the couch, enjoying a diet of pistachio nuts, beer and crying.

The hero of this particular script is, of course, Piri Weepu, the pint size and width Hurricanes half back that does it all – goal kicking, backup first-fiving, beard leadership and dragging boozing team mates out of north shore boozers. He’s an unlikely candidate for world cup saviour in fairness, having suffered a horrific leg injury this time last year, refuelled a lot over the off season and been one of the absolutely positively stroppy Hurriances. The All Blacks haven’t tried the folk hero approach since ’95 with Jonah Lomu – it’s going well so far, but as all Warriors fans know, banking on a wave of emotion to get you there is a risky strategy at times.

Even so, despite going into a semi final with the dastardly Australians with the country’s 43rd pick first five on the bench, I feel strangely calm, in a ‘really quite drunk, but unconcerned’ fashion. Fact remains that even with Slade Cruden, not Carter, we still have backline the envy of any team – even could play between Weepu and Nonu and appear competent*. I am also heartened by the clichés being rolled out about the All Blacks being stronger as a group for having our star player in the stands and our captain on one leg. If we win this world cup, it will be as a group that’s been tested and triumphed – not as arrogant favourites that fucked it up. It’s worth a try, hey?

The thing I love most about Dan Carter is he always looks half asleep. Running straight through a Wallaby defence. Goal kicking. Hanging out on someone’s wall. Farting about wearing only a pair of jocks. Tormenting the Lions. He always seems so relaxed, he’s kind of like your brother’s dodgy mate you suspect smoked a joint before showing up at the 21st. In a country where most males use Marc Ellis as template for manhood, Dan from Southbridge is pretty comfortable being himself, a shit hot rugby player, an obviously loved and respected member of the All Blacks, or an underwear model. Whatever. And so last Tuesday, he did a remarkable job of addressing a hysterical media pack who’d made his groin front page and lead-the-bulletin news. Suddenly he was guidance councillor to a nation, telling us to get over, um, him. It’s debatable whether signing Dan up for a further four years is good for NZ rugby long term, but there’s no doubt the man himself is all class. Heal well, fella.

Of course, in all the semi final excitement, let’s not forget the tournament’s minnows – I would like to pay tribute by publishing one of Haydn’s photos of Troy from Tampa, who didn’t let a little detail like a BROKEN NOSE he got playing rugby stop him coming to New Zealand, wearing an appalling hat and getting farkin’ wasted. Here’s to you, minnows, you have showed us how to enjoy rugby again. Let’s hope we remember that over the next couple of weeks.


* Total lie