I wanted to write this before the final match. If the All Blacks beat the French, then I will be caught up in the euphoria and it will be difficult to have perspective. I have the cheerleading gene and I get caught up in enthusiasms. I love that feeling of electricity when a large group of people respond in unison. Like the time Ashley took Tevis and me to a Giants baseball game when Barry Bonds broke the homerun record twice. Wow, that was amazing.
New Zealand has done a magnificent job hosting the Rugby World Cup. There were 20 nations participating and fans from all over the world, although the most visitors were from France, Australia or Ireland. In a country the size of California with a population of just 4.4 million, it is a challenge to stage such a big sporting event. Then add to the challenges the complete devastation of Christchurch after the February earthquake. It is hard to describe the role Christchurch has in the Kiwi psyche. So many people are from Christchurch and still have family there. It was the second most important city before the quake, after Auckland. It is also boasts some of the strongest rugby supporters in the country and is home for the ABs captain Richie McCaw.
They overcame those challenges and put on an amazing two month party. Not incidentally, violence is down nationwide. I heard one person say it is because we have been listening to the national anthems of all of the nations. It could be because you cannot be bored while the RWC is on. There are fan zones all over the country for viewing the games. The giant rugby ball is at Queen’s Wharf. Live entertainment is offered all over the country. It has really been lovely to see all of the volunteers in their turquoise jackets and the good-natured fans enjoying themselves in full color.
At the same time, there is a collective “holding one’s breath” until tonight’s final game when the All Blacks face France. I have never seen so much expectation and hope heaped on a team. Everyone and his dog wants to win this for New Zealand.
To give you some perspective: the whole nation is behind the All Blacks. It would be as if everyone in California got behind the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Only bigger. The newspapers print 2 page posters of the All Blacks for every big game and their progress in the World Cup has been on the front page every day and absorbed almost all of the sports section. The only other experience I have to compare is when the US men’s hockey team was playing so well in the 1980 winter Olympics. It is nearly reaching the point of hysteria for some.
Kiwis are very humble folks. They are accustomed to traveling the world and having people look at them blank when they say they are from New Zealand (as though you can see the person trying to remember where that country is…). They are not as isolated as they once were thanks to the World Wide Web and Peter Jackson, but they still have a sense of isolation.
Rugby took hold here as the national sport. It is cool how it is a love the indigenous people and the “pioneers” share. Thanks to the All Blacks, New Zealand has been the best in the world at something for decades. However, due to some the fickleness of sport, they have only won the Rugby World Cup one other time: the last time they hosted the RWC in 1987.
Tonight they will close the games, and play the final game. And every Kiwi will be watching and willing their team to win. I hope that no matter what the outcome, that they will know how special they are as people and what a terrific country is New Zealand. As a newbie I am so glad I am witnessing one of their finest moments.
Job well done.