Day 68 - New Zealand v Portugal, RWC2007, Lyon, September 2007

We spent the week following the match in Marseilles whizzing around teh region - from Montpellier in the west, over east as far as Nice, before heading up to Lyon. Awesome trip. Pleased to say that the expensive seats in the purple zone were worth it: in Lyon we were on half way, near the non-playing ABs, and about 2 rows in front of Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, though separated by more technology than the Apollo Space Program, and also by the largest bloody bouncer I have ever seen. Fingers like sausages. The atmosphere for Portugal was great - their fans perked up a fairly one-sided affair and gave it a carnival feel. A lot had been said about reducing the number of teams to 16 for 2011 in an attempt to make it more even, but the significance of that game for the Portuguese was immense. Fans by us said they can’t even see their team on TV normally, so to come and see them play the All Blacks in a Rugby  World Cup was special. The reaction to their first points (the drop goal) was amazing; the noise upon Joao Correia getting the try was beserk. No doubt a special day for them. Just a pity they didn’t get much in the way of souvenirs. That night we bumped into two of their forwards in town, speaking to Andre Silva and he said that they could not get the All Black jerseys at the end. It seems Henry’s All Blacks can only give out socks and shorts to opponents. Doesn’t quite look the same, framed on the club room’s wall does it? The game: Well, 108 on the board doesn’t look bad, but the consensus at the pub afterwards seemed to be that we were sloppy and off the pace. Luckily a lot of other teams seem below par as well - we hoped we would improve, cut out the dropsies, and begin to tighten up. The coaches didn’t look that wrapt afterwards. Game day was awesome though, and afterwards we discovered we were staying in the same hotel as the TV3 team - so it was beers with Hamish McKay, AJ Wetton, Grant Fox and their crew in the foyer, then again later for Junior when he joined them in town at the Maori Cafe in Lyon. Ah, France. Thanks a lot, and sorry about our bad French. Merci buckets, Lyon! ‘Foux Du Fafa’ by Flight of the Conchords.

Day 71 - New Zealand v France, RWC2007 Quarter Final, Cardiff, October 2007

It took 24 hours before I calmed down. At the final whistle, all I wanted to do was put a foot through one of Millenium Stadium’s plethora of urinals. It started to surface with 25 mins to go – that nagging, sinking feeling that the pendulum had swung, and the game was slipping from the All Blacks. France showed a lot of heart, they were backed by incredibly vocal support all night.
Again we had great seats - we could see Rodney So'oialo’s dreads strain as the French forwards were pulling them on the deck. And we were close enough that we all saw Michalak’s forward pass (as did Francois Pelous’ Mere, Pere & Wife who were next to us) right in front of us, but no one with a whistle or a flag did. That was the nail in the coffin, or Henry’s wrong rub of the green. Fact is, we came up short (no Plan B … again?), and it could have just as easily happened in the semi or the final had we got through. Ah, it is all history now, and in fact the loss is now a part of All Black canon; now apparently essential to developing the steel we needed to win in RWC2011. It was a long day of build up. Ours was the second quarter final of the day, so we had watched Australia lose to England at Y Mochn Du/The Black Pig (initially cause for much cocky cheering that we’d now wallop the Poms in the semi-final… the one we never made). This was the pub we sought refuge in in 2005 (see Day 33), and the thank you postcard we sent them afterwards was still on display behind the bar! So, our game did not start until evening which made for a long day of milling about and drinking, and actually dragging the anticipation out to the extent that the mood darkened a little before kick-off. Whereas France and Scotland had been afternoon games, this late start killed the atmosphere… and no city wants tens of thousands of bored, pissed (later f*cking angry) Kiwis lurking about. Cardiff just felt less carnival-like, or maybe just a little too familiar. Probably all the wasted New Zealanders - but after the game it went from carnival to just plain Carnage. I just felt sorry for all the people coming over from NZ on tours for the knockout stages (my Mum included) who wouldn’t be watching their own team now …. they scalped the tickets to rich City Boys! If there was a silver lining, it was a cash one for us because our package guaranteed us a refund of the semi final we did not make. So, voila … Xmas in Morocco was paid for. It is a shame we lost. And unfortunately, Cardiff is dead to me. It’s not the people, but that place is tarnished in my rugby mind as cursed. Never again. Still, the Rugby World Cup was brilliant - it was great to travel to away games, and the vibe at RWC is so much better than normal dour All Black tests - you are part of something bigger. We were determined to be at as many games for RWC2011 in New Zealand when we moved back home in a year. The ending would hopefully be happier.

Day 70 - New Zealand v Romania, RWC2007, Toulouse, September 2007

Toulouse was a cracker. The annointed home of French rugby really put it on for this game, providing a full World Cup Village down on the banks of La Garonne, with numerous bars and big screens for all the fans to watch the games. Situated about halfway between the downtown and the Stade de Toulouse - which is on an island in the middle of the river - the village was the first real example we had seen so far of a host city really providing a focal point for visiting (and local) fans. Add to that, the table service at the outdoor bars, the large plasma screens and naturally the chance to wind down after the All Black game and watching some more amazing rugby, well it added up to a brilliant day. Afterwards we all agreed that the All Blacks should revisit Toulouse as soon as possible, at the expense of Marseille if need be. We all really enjoyed Toulouse - every bar we went to the locals were rugby pundits - Lyon and Marseille did not have that vibe. My favourite was the barman of a place down by the University that had so many old rugby jerseys and socks hanging on the wall that the place smelt like a changing room. He was convinced that his French team were true quality, but that Bernie La Porte is a nutter. The previous game against Scotland had let doubts into my mind; we just did not look convincing, but the game versus Romania restored some faith. We were sitting right on the touch line and the passing was relentless - our backs were hurling the ball at each other, simply willing the moves to continue, to their glorious conclusions. The crowd were “Ooohing“ and “Aaahing” at everything we pulled off, and though they also cheered Romania on as much as they could, the utterances of such Anglo-French words as “magnifique” were clearly aimed at the All Blacks. Our drinking buddy from Edinburgh Keith Robinson returned and Nick Evans was excellent. Add to that Aaron Mauger anchoring things and the adaptability of our squad in general, and it all looked much better for the quarter final. And so far, no injuries. Lets face it, when Mauger had a big game, the All Blacks won in convincing, though not necessarily flashy, style . It all made us feel that with loose units like Michalak and Pointrenaud in their team, the French had far more worries with handling pressure and preventing les explosions de brain than we did. Ah, the optimism of youth.

Day 69 - New Zealand v Scotland, RWC2007, Edinburgh, September 2007

Looking back, a 40-0 win looks like another awesome effort by the All Blacks in their less than challenging pool, but I clearly remember every one of our posse was shaking their heads and doubting that the team was rising to a peak in time for the knockout stages. One young dude we talked to actually got shitty, said that we were knocking the All Blacks. However, we were not being harsh, it was obvious we were looking undercooked. There were dropped balls galore and the backs even looked confused at times. I actually think the two teams could not tell each other apart in tight play - the similarity of their strips, especially the upper body, was too ridiculous. Bring Back Black! Some set ‘moves’ seemed to be slowly appearing, and I love it when the All Blacks execute good ones. I know the score did not matter in the big picture, and the Brains Trust (supposedly) had a plan, but the need to produce our A game against France in the Quarter Final was desperate. The result after Cardiff would see either the host nation (France) or the favourite (us) go home. It was a hilarious weekend again. Every Kiwi in the UK must have converged on Edinburgh, the town was swathed in black and it was an inescapable fact that the Rugby World Cup had hit town, even more so than in the two previous games at Marseille and Lyon. The Scots were also out in force, but as the big screen revealed the line-ups in Murrayfield, the cheers of thousands greeting each All Black name made it clear that the Scots may not have the home ground easy ride they wanted. Jonesy again found a celeb: this time he cornered pig hunter and part-time All Black Keith Robinson (he and Mils Muliaina had pass-outs) in a pub the night before. I think the big guy was there with friends or family for a quiet catch up, but he was kind enough to accept a five minute inquisition from us … though the strange swing of topics that we were unleashing, from hunting, to training, to injuries, to where he and the boys should be going for the best pizza in Aix-en-Provence must have been daunting. I think we were pretty boozed by then. Robinson said he was itching for a run at Romania and things were looking good for that. Looking back now, with 7 years hindsight, I think that ill feeling after such a loose performance against the Scots, with the knockouts looming was to be prophetic. No one would believe us at the time… but we all knew we’d been here before. Ooh la la. Any chance to play some Mogwai gladly accepted: ‘I Know You Are But What Am !?’