By Analiese Jackson
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the course of the Rugby World Cup, it’s that New Zealanders have the endearing habit of supporting whoever is considered the under-dog going into a match…so long as we’re positive they’re absolutely no threat to our national team.
Sitting in a bar in Courtney Place (the street in Wellington known for its diverse selection of pubs and clubs) on Friday night, there was overwhelming support for the Brave Blossoms as they were overpowered by the strength of the All Blacks squad. People were jumping out of their chairs and yelling with encouragement in the 58th minute as Hirotoki Onozawa sprinted down the field to score Japan’s one and only try, and the cheering as he made it over the line was infectious. Even the most stalwart of All Blacks supporters couldn’t help but crack a smile.
It was with this sort of attitude that my friend Helen and I decided that we’d pick Fiji as ‘our team’ for Saturday’s Wellington match against South Africa. We’d been excitedly planning our first Rugby World Cup outing together for several weeks and, after having been witness to the opening match of RWC in Auckland, I was eager to see how Wellington compared when it came to hosting rugby fans.
Wellingtonians, on the face of it, seem to be a little more reserved when it comes to getting into the World Cup Festivities. There are far fewer flags adorning cars and flags here than in Auckland, but although we may not have gone to town in the CDB (so to speak) decoration-wise, the enthusiasm for the rugby itself is just as strong as it is further up the island.
Wellington’s Westpac stadium (better known as the Cake Tin) is a great place to watch live rugby. It’s only a short walk to the stadium from town and, as the venue itself is a lot smaller than Eden Park, the intimacy of the venue means that the atmosphere there is always really lively.
Although the match looked initially promising when, at around the 20th minute, the score was made even by Seremaia Bai’s penalty goal, it was soon evident that South Africa were going to trounce their opponents. Fiji may have played some pretty lacklustre rugby, however those of us without Springboks shirts were happy to lend them our moral support. The crowd was in high spirits and despite the pummeling that their team received, the Fijian supporters never stopped cheering.
After the match had concluded, Helen and I made our way down to the Wellington waterfront to check out the FanZone. Unfortunately, several hundred people from the previous match had the same idea as us, and good spots in front of the big screen were limited. We decided that we’d rather find ourselves a seat at a bar on Courtney Place and watch the Australia vs Ireland match there instead.
What a great decision that turned out to be!
Just for a bit of context, Australia is to New Zealand what France is to England (and, after our very own Wayne Barnes fiasco, what France is to New Zealand, too): a mortal rugby enemy that, no matter how supportive we may be of our other visiting teams, there is no way that we will ever support them, not even if their coach is a former All Black.
Which is why we couldn’t have been more ecstatic when we were suddenly faced with the possibility that Ireland, the supposed under-dogs, might actually win against Australia. Helen, me, and practically the rest of the bar struggled to contain our excitement in the last quarter as the minutes ticked down and the Irish side looked increasingly likely to win.
When the final whistle blew, there was such mayhem on the streets of Wellington that you’d think it was the All Blacks themselves who had triumphed over the Wallabies. Suddenly it seemed that everyone in New Zealand was able to claim some small part of the Irish victory by proudly purporting to have some sort of Irish ancestry (probably the same people who were loudly proclaiming to be of some sort of Welsh descent following their narrow loss last week!). My Irish claims, I might add, were totally legitimate!
New Zealanders may like to support the team with the longest shot of winning a match with the expectation that they’ll lose – but it’s especially nice to be awarded with a victory now and again!
- Analiese is a freelance writer and journalist based in New Zealand.