By Analiese Jackson
Exactly 20 days after I was born, New Zealand’s Rugby Union team won the first ever Rugby World Cup.
Which is not to say that these two events are in any way related, but I like to think that it was that one extra supporter who gave the All Blacks the motivation they needed in order to secure the Webb Ellis Trophy for New Zealand.
Sadly though, for a nation that is meant to be home to the best rugby union team in the world (if we do say so ourselves), the Webb Ellis hasn’t spent all that much time in little ol’ New Zealand; in fact, 1987 was the one and only time we’ve ever laid hands on it.
Sure, we’ve been more than generous with sharing the trophy around other nations (Australia and South Africa have both won it twice, and England once brought it over to the northern hemisphere), but we Kiwis have decided that it’s about time it returned home to New Zealand, which is why practically the entire country is buzzing with excitement about the start of the World Cup.
It’s no secret that, to most New Zealanders, Rugby Union isn’t just a sport; it’s almost a religion. Growing up in a small town just north of Auckland (New Zealand’s biggest city), rugby was always treated as some sort of institution in my household.
Whether it was regional matches or international fixtures, when ‘our team’ was playing (The Crusaders during the Super 15, the All Blacks for all other occasions) the television was switched on and, for the next eighty minutes, the entire family was glued to the set. For most of us, rugby is the stuff that we’ve been bought up on, and if you can hold your own in a rugby related conversation you’re never without a friend at a local Kiwi pub.
Being the enthusiastic rugby fanatics that we are, we’ve been counting down the days until September 9th for well over a year now. Cities all across New Zealand have been readying themselves for the sudden influx of rugby-mad tourists, even the ones that aren’t hosting any matches, just in case people decide to venture out of the major rugby hubs.
Primary schools have somehow managed to build rugby into the school curriculum (don’t ask me how, but I imagine it’s something like: “If Ritchie scores three tries and Daniel scores two conversions, how many points will the All Blacks have scored?”).
Kiwi ‘landmarks’ have been painted black in an attempt to cash in on the world cup bandwagon (including this carrot, which now just looks as though it’s been caught in New Zealand’s recent atypically icy weather). Basically, we’re ready and waiting for the 95,000 projected visitors who will arrive throughout the next month.
Over the next few weeks, I’m planning on living and breathing rugby – I’ve manged to get tickets for pool matches in both Auckland and Wellington, so it’ll be interesting to see how the two cities differ in terms of what they have on offer for rugby fans.
I’m particularly looking forward to watching the opening match between New Zealand and Tonga, as I managed to watch these two teams face off during the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and the atmosphere generated at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium as the two teams performed their respective nations’ haka simultaneously was phenomenal. I can’t even begin to imagine what the buzz will be like considering it’s a home game.
We may be a small nation, but we know how to host a great party – and we’re hoping that people not just in New Zealand, but also around the world, get in on the rugby spirit too!
- Analiese is a freelance writer and journalist based in New Zealand.