30 September 2011 (Hunua, New Zealand) - 9:27a.m.
I’ve sifted through countless articles, websites and opinion pages devoted to the current topic at hand: rugby. I’ve listened to hours of talk back radio as a flock of guest All Blacks, international journalists and amateur experts offer their insights and opinions on what has been the only topic in this land.
I now know...
*The media are only allowed 15 minutes of camera time @ the start of team trainings. After that brief spell, slightly longer in scope and length than the minutes required for me to chat up my eventual wife, all journalists are ushered from the ground and the following session closed.
The IRB and all the top tiered nations have managed the immediate environments surrounding team trainings in the similar manner that America controls AREA 51. Fields are fenced and all activities within are shielded by thousands of yards of “wind cloth” – glad to see that someone possibly from RD1 is making some coin as a result of these CIA type tactics.
Behind these walls there’s no telling what’s happening. But from the way that England has been playing, I reckon absurd sessions filled with dwarf chucking, Scrumpy drinking and Morris Dancing are the norm!
Our cross ditch neighbours have also hit a performance speed bump and, instead of involving all in meaningful backline work, have focussed on maintaining that “bronzed Aussie aura, standing round gas fired barbies, shirts off and supping large cans of Fosters. A less than impressed Robbie Deans sits in the stands making notes and pulling his hair out!
South Africa have engaged in some odd training rituals over recent years (i.e. the naked sweat hut episode under Nick Mallet reign?) and I’m guessing that periods of the New Zealand sessions involve sitting on the ground, making daisy chains, braiding each other’s hair while coach de Villiers reads from the pages of the Little Train that Could.
Romania, on the other hand, have welcomes any interaction with the press and happily offer “open” sessions for the entirety of their stay. The Romanians appear as one large family of similarly barrel-chested, fireplug shaped miner or possibly quarrymen brothers who’ve endured a rugged lifestyle prior to and since, communism’s collapse. These guys have their hearts in the right place and though they reside somewhere near the bottom of the performance totem pole, they are out there doing it for everyone to see. It’s my concern that they would improve their try scoring chances if only they’d quit entertaining the gathered masses like some troupe of travelling trapeze artists. Though the gathered masses have been highly impressed by the chucking about of full beer kegs and the constant making and then “tackling down” of an ever increasing number of human pyramids, we really came to watch the rugby guys!
For you literal readers, except for the bit about the 15 minutes, the rest is a fabrication and attempts to showcase the ludicrous heights teams have pursued to prevent sneaky eyes from seeing any practiced sneaky moves. I say, show it boldly, make some t shirts, Xerox copies of your playbook, put it all on the web with catchy diagrams and player bio, let the people peer through chain link fencing and then challenge all comers to try and stop you on game day. We applaud the Romanians!!
*the French team travelled here with $17,000 worth of coffee beans. The pompous gits are obviously unaware that you’d be hard pressed to find, even in gay Paris, a better shot of coffee than in New Zealand. Everyone and I mean everyone, seems to be training up to be a barista and so there’s no shortage of well made cups of coffee (even @ petrol stations!!!).
Anyway, I hope Inland Revenue taxed this beans stash heavily at port of entry! First eye gouging, scrotum grabbing, the Rainbow Warrior and now this coffee beans incursion, are they mad or just plain rude? You don’t bring your own drinks to a bar – except, unless you are an under-aged student on a limited income.
Yet another reason for me and several thousand other flat white drinkers, to sneer in the general direction of Les Bleus and their management team. Probably it’s the wild haired fashion designer glasses wearing coach, who looks more like a cloak room attendant than a professional footy coach, who demanded French beans at their breakfast table! But the World has come to expect this sort of carry on from a nation full of cheese snobs. I say storm Takapuna, steel the beans, slurp loudly and put the boot in when next we face them!
*Months before the games, the Japanese Rugby Union sent an official to New Zealand on rugby critical, business! His task? Find and source proper rice for their North Shore accommodation! Took three attempts, but success was achieved and our Japanese guests have happily chop sticked their way through four weeks of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Midnight snacks are still the ever popular, heavily sugared and slightly cultish: Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries! France note: Japan sourced their required product through LOCAL means. We would have happily pointed you in the direction of several, South Auckland roasting houses – but no, you had to butcher this chance to mend some fences. Take a note from a gracious team like Japan. WE host – YOU guest!!
*This World Cup will be transmitted to Scott Base, Antarctica for the first time ever! A 15-strong, New Zealand working party look forward to sharing all 48 LIVE games with their “American friends from nearby McMurdo Station”. One Irishman and a convict of no known national origin are within the New Zealand contingent.
Does seem an awful harsh environment and an incredibly long way to travel for a group of rugby enthusiasts keen to enjoy seven weeks on a coach, in your PJ’s, unshaved and stubby BEER in hand and crumbs in facial hair, cracking jokes, eating chips and watching rugby! Several investigative journalists are still trying to work out how two pallets of Spieghts Ale and seventeen boxes of Blue Bird assorted chips could be classified as scientific equipment necessary to studying and recording changes in the Earth’s weather patterns.
Here is another gripping example of our tax dollars working to keep an ever shrinking number of the population fed and entertained! Though, there is no known information on the Irishman’s point of expertise, it seems the convict has been carried along to adjust the aerial during those pesky, blustery late spring storms that the southern “Popsicle” is popularly known for!
And so we carry on this media merry go round...
During the tournament, the New Zealand Herald, our sole national daily, sandwiched ongoing rugby coverage around the business section. In what’s been a deflated commercial climate, rugby takes precedent over all features that recognize business milestones and those articles that chart national efforts to spark financial recovery.
Seems everybody’s talking rugby and there’s plenty of content on offer. Investment tips will have to wait till the end of October. We’ll happily be poor and challenged for another six weeks, change that to six years, as long as the All Blacks bring home that CUP. In the course of life unfolding and all bits being equal, since we’ve been recessed this long, what the heck is another month’s worth of financial hardship? Regardless of the facts that jobs are scarce and money tight, our collective sporting religion can propel and sustain us during these trying times. What else does one expect? After all, money and work will not much matter if our thirty, CHOSEN campaigners stumble again!
During these recent weeks, I’ve attempted to identify common threads within the many journalistic posts on offer. Countless dispatches delivered by scribes from every corner of the globe have created a non-stop rugby feast. As I mentally decipher and distil the many column inches produced, one word seems constant: passion. Passion displayed by the many players, coaches, fans, administrators and journalists themselves. I’m not yet sure if it’s the subject matter or the personalities of those charged with reporting these events that’s driven these regular displays of emotion. After all it’s merely a game we’re talking and writing about. Nothing more - nothing less.
Possibly it’s the subject matter, the game itself, which perpetuates and expands this intensity and focus on feeling. After all, to play this game superbly, equal parts passion, intensity and composure are needed. As record keepers of this often brutal, mythical code; those journalists drawn to this great spectacle are similarly committed and passionate towards their approach to recording these events. The games are not mere contests of a physical nature – but human episodes that have played out over many months and years. The World over, personal progressions, team trainings and national build ups have required time and effort as small groups prepared for this tourney. Currently, a collection of fleeting words, a series of fast evaporating images, quotes and sound bites are all that remain of this place in history.
For those who write this record, there is something truly great and satisfying about witnessing - first hand - an historical event on the timeline of a nation. The following may provide another perspective on the importance of this sport and these New Zealand games to this county and its people. From Inside – the business of the rugby world cup (by KPMG) one of the many journalists tasked with recording these games wrote...
“Almost all of the staff turned out at the New Zealand Rugby Union dressed in their number ones at 4.30am. One lady was there even though it was her wedding day,” says the former Chief Executive of the NZRU.
“When the announcement was made people jumped in the air. Cars passed the New Zealand Rugby Union honking their horns. There was an impromptu party that broke out at the Viaduct Basin in Auckland and the All Blacks flag flew above the Beehive for the first time ever.”
After outlining the initial IRB process to select the 2011 host nation, Moeller goes on to write and say:
“That’s when Jock Hobbs, Cath Ingram (NZRU Executive Assistant), and I got on a plane and visited 14 countries in two weeks, making 18 presentations to the different voting groups. We were armed with the technical evaluation conclusions, which the IRB had sent to every voter, because that was our plan from the outset. We had decided many months earlier that we would hold off from visiting the voters until we saw the conclusions of the technical evaluation report, so that we could emphasise the positives and deal with any negatives, like the size of Eden Park.
“While Japan spent a lot of time talking about its bid in the media, we knew that actually the real people were the 18 counsellors of the International Rugby Board that would put their votes on a piece of paper in Dublin on 17 November 2005. In addition, Jock and I knew all of those people personally and wanted to sell our bid through relationships, not through the media.”
After the road show, while Jock and Cath went back to New Zealand, Chris flew to Dublin and set up a war room in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin where the IRB Councillors traditionally stay.
“We plotted and planned every scenario we could think of and once Jock arrived we again spent a lot of time meeting with the voters.
“The final presentation involved Jock, who introduced our bid, Helen Clark, the first head of government to ever visit the IRB offices, Colin Meads, who said Jock had told him the money was covered so it must be a rugby decision, Tana Umaga, who as captain of the All Blacks spoke on behalf of the players, and myself, covering the commercial matters. Suffice to say we nailed it and the rest is history.”
(Chris Moeller who successfully lead, as head of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, New Zealand’s bid to secure the hosting rights for World Cup 2011 on his memories of 18 November 2005 – the day NZ won the bid over Japan and South Africa)
The New Zealand government supported these games from the outset and once we secured hosting rights the “minister of rugby” set about building a portfolio to ensure these games were a success.
Only New Zealand, like only New Zealand can, could employ a rugby parliamentarian. It just wouldn’t work anywhere else. In other realms and political circles they may declare war on drugs, terrorism, global warming, hunger, poverty and excessive taxes. In New Zealand it is much more basic.
We have, and we hope it was the right decision, tasked some clever minister with sorting all the details. Then we demanded our All Blacks declare war on “run of the mill, ho hum, let’s try another penalty or a win by drop goal boys” version of this game.
Rugby and the All Blacks are the nation’s billboard and mouthpiece towards the continual stoic pursuit of integrity driven play and the all encompassing approach towards achieving excellence and removing anything deemed inferior.
Sometimes, admittedly not always, this quest for unbridled excellence accompanies other areas and aspects of our peoples’ daily lives. I’ve often thought if, just for a small element of our personal endeavors, this nation equally embraced the levels of excellence we demand from the All Blacks, then we’d be the biggest giant killer in so many arenas of our domestic and international existence! It’s really quite Zen like what the AB’s do and I cannot see why we haven’t allowed the penny to drop. Define the subject, establish the systems and repeatedly work to polish and develop.
Thankfully, more often than not, when other teams stumble, this harried band of driven rugby players, through their regular displays of superhuman feats, remind the nation of this basic equation. Unfortunately, we often miss that simple point.
We must remember, let’s all say it together, when times are troubled and tough, rugby is both the answer and question to many of our national dilemmas.
More from Mark Freemon in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup
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