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Letters from the Southern Man

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What the Rugby World Cup means to me...

Posted by Iain on Sept. 8, 2011, 6 a.m. in Living

Rugby.

It of the oddly shaped ball.

World Cup.

Starts this week if you hadn’t heard.

I wasn’t going to do the rugby thing in the blog but the anticipation, excitement and the biggest event (party!) New Zealand has ever put on, or might ever see, has overcome me. Bear with me those of you that don’t follow this mad sport. Because to understand rugby and what is about to happen, is to get an insight into New Zealanders but equally, how New Zealand is changing.

I put myself in the highly interested but not obsessed camp. If we win it, great. If we don’t, then someone else played a better game in a knockout situation than we did. We move on. But in the meantime we have fun, party and show off this magical country of ours to the 85,000 visitors and the millions more who will watch on television from around the world.

Understand rugby in New Zealand and you will understand how it is a metaphor for a changing nation. In some ways, it represents what the ‘old’ New Zealand used to be about. Values that we all once shared and now many have left behind; what some pine for and what many are glad we have left in that other, antique New Zealand. Of some clinging to this sport as a measure of our national manhood and others who do not measure their worth, or the worth of this nation, against what happens on a footy field.

I live in a suburb called Mount Eden. It is a ten minute walk to the hallowed ground of Eden Park which, for the next seven weeks, will have the eyes of the rugby world focussed on it. Yet equally, there are literally thousands of people sharing Mount Eden with me who not only don’t watch rugby, they don’t give a toss about the world cup. Many are migrants from Asia and India. Give them football. Give them cricket. Give them Badminton. Give them Ping Pong. Rugby on the whole is for Pakeha (NZ European), Polynesian and Maori and the 100,000 South Africans that have made New Zealand their home.

Don’t get me wrong, I have bought tickets for the New Zealand versus France game later on this month at Eden Park. ‘Le Revenge’ for Cardiff 2007 many are calling it. I wouldn’t miss it.

So which teams have New Zealanders worried?

The young Australian team with possibly the best back line in the world. The South Africans who will bore us to death with their ‘style’ and to whom winning is more important than it is to New Zealanders.

That’s right South Africans. Every time I am in South Africa I hear that apparently rugby is a religion in NZ. It really makes me laugh. How little the Super Sport talking TV heads understand us. If rugby is a religion then I am afraid many of us are lapsed. The truth is, as I have said before, after many experiences watching the game in South Africa I have not come across more rabid rugby supporters.

I mean there’s been no playing dress up on a Friday like your favourite All Black in New Zealand. No endless TV commercials exhorting the so called team of millions. We know we are already part of Team New Zealand putting our best foot forward – the Silver Fern and more importantly the haka, are the unifying forces. Nothing staged about it. No trying to pretend we are all one people. We are all one people.

On my last trip to SA a month or so ago I almost thought that the tournament must be being held there and not NZ if the TV propaganda, er, marketing, was to be believed exhorting the nation to be one (as South Africa constantly does).

Hell, we have all been moaning about the price of the damn shirts! Personally wearing the shirt of the national team is the ultimate confirmation we are no longer seen as fans by the IRB but consumers. I confess I did buy one but not for me and not to wear. I have bought one for a good friend in South Africa, to add to his collection in his wonderful bar (pub) in his home in Durban. I wouldn’t waste my money on an All Black jersey.

So what does this World Cup mean to me?

Sharing good times with good friends. Welcoming people to our country to share a laugh and a unique ‘Made in New Zealand’ experience. A chance to showcase the best of our industries, our foods, our wine and our lifestyle. And of course a business opportunity. I have many potential clients coming over for a few weeks. I have no doubt they will be blown away by what they see and experience. And the best part for them will be the people. And many will decide to come back and live.

I have my tickets for the semi final which if results go the way of seedings should see the All Blacks playing the Springboks at Eden Park. I spent $1500 (ouch!) on three tickets for me and my sons. I figured this might be the only time we will get a chance to see a major game like this on our home patch and in the end, while I think the prices are hideously expensive it is a once in a lifetime opportunity – so what the hell!

And I confess, with the All Blacks losing their last two games to the Springboks and Australia, I just had to be part of it. To see if this time they could do it. To see if this time they could adapt and play a winning game all the way through to the end. Win ugly if they have to. As the Springboks and English have learned.

I think most New Zealanders, who always like a good time, would see winning as the icing on a seven week party cake. If we lose, we lose, the sun will still rise and shine upon us. I don’t think we define ourselves by what happens on a rugby paddock. I certainly don’t.

We are being told by the organisers to make sure we offer the 85,000 visitors the time of their lives and not to worry about whether the All Blacks win or lose. Ah, yeah, okay…roger that, sure.

I have no doubt we will. Show them a great time that is.

Already the supporters are pouring in. No rooms at the inn and all that. I am amazed that most have booked six week stays and it is clear this isn’t going to be just an Auckland and Wellington rugby event but our visitors are going to suck in all that it means to be a New Zealander. Everything this wonderful country has to offer them – local food and wine, farmers markets, vineyards, farm stays, urban stays, big game fishing, little game fishing(!), Auckland’s new Art Gallery, stage shows, the new ‘Q’ theatre in Auckland, local music, museums, Lord of the Rings Country, Weta Workshop, America’s Cup yachts (get out on our harbour if you are coming), skiing (bumper snow levels on Ruapehu in the Central North Island) , surfing (yep, ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon), walking on beaches, whale watching, swimming with dolphins, sailing, hiking, mountain biking – makes me tired just thinking about it.

Spring is here and the weather should be perfect for rugby – temperatures in the high teens most days in most places, not too hot and not cold. This winter has been very mild apart from two cold snaps. The garden is looking pretty dry and the potted plants need constant watering. The rugby fields will be in excellent condition.

Any thoughts that this will be a wet and challenging environment for rugby favouring the European teams is rubbish. I wouldn’t expect a lot of rain.

And it all kicks off if you’ll excuse the pun this Friday.

Organisers are expecting 50,000 people at Eden Park for the official opening ceremony and another 60,000 along Downtown Auckland.

If you can, watch, watch – the opening ceremony begins at 6pm local time (6am GMT, 8am South Africa and 2pm Singapore and Malaysia). The largest firework display New Zealand has ever seen follows the Eden Park Events.

If you are coming over or are already in New Zealand here is a few must dos while you are here in Auckland:

Have brunch/lunch/dinner (hell just stay for the whole day) at the new Wynyard Quarter

Stroll the farmers market at Britomart then retire to one of the many new bars for local beer or wine. And try out local beers – you could drink a new local beer every time for seven weeks and you’d never drink the same variety twice!

Head up the Sky Tower – you will probably see home from the top.

Visit Federal Street (under the Sky Tower) for some of the best Tapa’s Bars you’ll find (and the latest hang out for Auckland’s beautiful people)

La Cigale Farmers market in Parnell – great food, coffee and the best locally grown produce you will find (ask for directions, it isn’t easy to find but well worth it)

Settle in and watch the rugby at ‘The Cloud’, a 130 metre long structure that looks like a rolling, well, cloud (or albino caterpillar). This is ‘Party Central’ for the RWC. Two football fields long with two giant 18m TV screens, it is to be the hub for World Cup revellers. Bars, stages and food – it is going to be the place to be. Set up to cater for 15,000 people at a time.

Merediths (in Mount Eden – again voted NZ’s best and just a stones throw from Eden Park) for the best fine dining experience you will find while you are here (if you can get a table – they are often booked months in advance). Equally The French Café, The Engine Room, Dine, Clooneys (the list really is endless).

Enjoy some of the cheap Chinese eateries along Dominion Road (15 minutes walk from Eden Park). You won’t understand the waiters, you aren’t there for the service but the food is cheap, regional Chinese and to die for.

Ponsonby Road for more food and bars

Fishing charters out on the Hauraki Gulf – you read me talk about it, now do it for yourselves

Newmarket for shopping

A day (or two) on Waiheke Island – our gem of the Hauraki Gulf – vineyards, great restaurants or you might even take your boardies and have a swim.

If you are staying centrally in Auckland the bus service is superb. The trains are safe and clean and if you are not staying too far away from a station offer a comfortable alternative to the car.

And if you can, squeeze in a bit of rugby!

And therein lies the rub. Once the rugby club was the centre of our social lives. These days, especially for those of us that live in cities like Auckland, it is a small part of it with our diverse backgrounds, histories and interests, the RWC is just a good excuse to have more fun.

Let the party begin!

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Tags: world cup | quality | life | event

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