By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman
I was in the Eden Park stadium on the final night of the Rugby World Cup 2011 Tournament. Not only in the stadium, but, as part of my duties, in the players tunnel area during the last quarter of the match. The volume of sound from the crowd was extraordinary – every move on the field was matched by a roar from 62,000 people; whether All Black fans en masse or the few determined French fans. Looking around the stadium, everyone was wearing black, as is always the case with Kiwi fans, although occasional brave blobs of French Tricolour could be seen in groups in the crowd.
The energy was palpable from the start; even the waitstaff in the corridors were getting excited as they wheeled food trays to the corporate boxes. The first try by New Zealand’s Woodcock generated a roar like nothing else, and New Zealand hearts were light. Then came a bruising battle for the rest of the match and New Zealand nerves were on edge around the country – at half time, there were comments like “It’s not decisive, too close, I can’t watch, OMG could we actually lose?”
The tension when the score got to 8 NZ, 7 France, and stayed there, was unbearable. As we all know, our boys hung on to that one point, and won the day, the night, the battle and the Cup. They had given it their all on the field, as summed up by Captain Richie McCaw:
“I’m absolutely shagged, but the courage and the heart the guys put out there, we had to dig as deep as we’ve ever dug before and it’s hard to really let it sink in.”
The crowd kept cheering and cheering, and no-one left when the game ended; everyone waited for the trophy presentation, and the moment we had been hoping for from the time New Zealand won the bid to host the tournament – to see Richie holding up the Webb Ellis Cup. The moment finally came, the team assembled on the stage, Richie lifted the Cup above his head – and the crowd roared even more loudly. The flames and the fireworks went off, the glitter bombs showered glitter all over the AB’s, and around the country there was a new kind of weather phenomenon – a wind caused by the sigh of relief simultaneously from the stadium of four million people.
As happy NZ supporters began leaving the stadium, there were a few resolute French fans in the crowd, with their faces painted in the Tricolour stripes. I watched as they walked up the aisle, past a particularly good humoured All Blacks fan, who shook hands with the French fans as they passed, and gave them a sort of mournful Well Done of acknowledgement. One of the French fans gave the NZ fan his French scarf – a wonderful moment of camaraderie that said it all.
In the stadium that night, it was all about the rugby, but so much more had happened to get us there: the adopting of the minnow teams (who can forget Palmerston North’s support of the Georgia/Romania game by providing red and yellow buckets for the audience to wear on their heads?); the national festival (the extended Bluff oyster season, WOW on tour, food and wine experiences everywhere, vineyard clippings made into giant rugby balls, fashion, history and photography exhibitions, NZSO concerts, Kiri Te Kanawa…the list goes on). Then there was the Opening Ceremony, the stirring anthems, and through it all the contagious involvement in all things rugby even for those who didn’t usually watch a game or know anything about sport. I think most people decided to go along on the journey of the Tournament, even if they didn’t know what a ruck was, as it was clear there was loads of fun to be had. It also kept the electioneering at bay, so that was a plus as well.
New Zealand has had a turbulent year – the awful losses of the Pike River mine and the Christchurch earthquakes, and the highs of a Tournament delivered above and beyond expectations, and just to finish it all off nicely – the Webb Ellis Cup with New Zealand 2011 engraved on it.
Some might carp that to win by one point is too close for comfort, but it’s still a win, and you either win or you don’t; there’s no middle ground…that one winning point, earned by the valiant All Blacks, belongs to the whole country.
We may have proved to the world that we can deliver a major world event, but I think more importantly we proved it to ourselves. So whatever our Next Big Thing is, we know we can do it – with style, generosity, imagination and yes, just a little bit of number 8 wire.
Photos from media news sites