- All Blacks at the official welcome ceremony for the Rugby World Cup in Auckland.
Being in New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup wasn’t particularly my plan last year, but boy am I glad I stayed. Tomorrow, in less than 19 hours, the first game of the 2011 Rugby World Cup will kick-off at Eden Park in Auckland.
Right now, it’s just after midnight and Queen Street, Auckland’s main street, is buzzing with activity. Flags of all nations adorn every shop, car, lamp-post and person.
The World Cup celebrations start at 3pm tomorrow with free concerts, performances and fireworks to mark the start of this historic event.
After the Opening Ceremony, chances are you’ll see thousands of people with silver ferns painted across their cheeks watching the live telecast of New Zealand v Tonga with bated breath.
It has often been mentioned by the various media that the Rugby World Cup is the third largest sporting event in the world, but for rugby novice like me the trivia sounds trivial till I saw the emotion for the sport on the street.
I have been lucky to be in the country long enough to make friends and watch their beloved sport with them. Over the weekend I saw a Rugby League match between NZ Warriors and the New South Wales Cowboys from the comfort of a welcoming Kiwi home where proudly displayed on the piano was a picture of the All Blacks with the man of house cheekily Photoshopped in to be a part of the team.
People of this house got behind their team.
So imagine my surprise when every one of the 6 people in the room shouted out in disgust when one of the Warriors’ players body-checked a player from the other team.
I can’t really tell the difference between an overly physical rugby tackle and a normal rugby tackle. The entire sport seems overly physical to my football-tuned brain. But my savvy rugby friends were appalled at the harsh treatment meted out to the player and more so because it turned out he used to be an ex-Warriors player. What made them livid was the way their player had treated a former teammate.
I am still trying to understand the game and am often left puzzled by it. But this reaction left my football- fuelled brain which has been numbed by ‘fan-thinking’ more puzzled than ever before.
Not give Wayne Rooney the stick when he goes to play at Everton or even Anfield?
This is when I got a rare insight into Kiwis’ relationship to Rugby and the All Blacks. The All Blacks are the country’s oldest franchise and probably their most recognisable brand the world over. Every Kiwi loves one or the other form of Rugby and I’d put money on the fact that even those who claim to not care one bit about the game will say a little prayer if they think it’d help the All Blacks win.
But unlike the British obsession with football, Kiwis’ love of Rugby isn’t toxic. They see their team, as an extension of themselves and their country’s character and that is why it is unacceptable to them when one of their Rugby players is unfairly harsh to a fellow player.
Their love for the game is well- known but that doesn’t make them lose sight of it being just a game – important but not more important than being the good guys and being human
They realise that rugby in the end is just a game and they don’t let their love for the game taint their love for their ideals. And because of this, the All Blacks are so much more than just a team and Rugby so much more than just a game.