And then there were four…

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

‘Poms bomb, Wales prevail’ screamed the headline in the Herald on Sunday, a dual reference to the English defeat against a rejuvenated France and Wales’ triumph in the titanic Celtic clash with Ireland.

Meanwhile the Aussies reached into the very depth of their collective Antipodean soul to sneak the narrowest and bravest of wins against an overwhelmingly dominant South Africa; and the injury-ravaged All Blacks stuttered past a courageous Argentinian side.

[The Pumas from Argentina face the traditional All Blacks haka]

World Cup nerves have afflicted the entire nation. Men, women, children, even the sheep cannot contain their excitement as the semi-finals approach.

But there’s also much anxiety. If you hear a noise on the rugby field here it’s more likely to be the sound of an All Blacks’ groin pinging than the chanting of the local supporters. Not only has Rudolf Nureyev (also known as Dan Carter) been laid low by a torn groin muscle but his replacement, Colin Slade, has been similarly struck down. SARS yes, H5N1 (bird flu) perhaps. But an epidemic of torn groin muscles! It’s too cruel for words.

[Martin Moodie and Jonathan Holland at Eden Park]

As a result the All Blacks have brought in a youngster (Aaron Cruden) who was “zooming around on a skateboard having a few beers” this time last week (have they not heard of drink driving here?) and the man not so fondly known as Donald Duck  (Stephen Donald). The All Blacks are, as the local saying goes, falling like flies and given my experience of playing in the pivotal number 10 position in several rugby matches at the Cannes show a few years back, I’m half expecting a call-up.

[The All Blacks are known for their dogged support]

But it’s not just about the All Blacks. Anticipation is building across four nations and their respective supporters for this weekend’s semi-finals. The weather has worsened and from my 34th floor room overlooking Auckland harbour all I can see is a thick, rain-swept mist. It’s the sort of weather you’d expect to find high on the Brecon Beacons (mountains) in Wales in December, rather than in Auckland in early Spring and that just might suit a certain Scarlett-hued rugby team this weekend.

The Welsh have captured everyone’s imagination in New Zealand due to the panache of their rugby and their refusal to whinge at their desperately unlucky defeat to South Africa in the pool stages.

The French, as per their tradition, have ranged from dire to dazzling while the Wallabies are dangerously confident that they can claim a prized trans-Tasman scalp this weekend. Certainly the Aussies would like nothing more than to send their neighbour into collective national despair.

My predictions went slightly askew last weekend with only a 50% hit rate but I’m narrowly opting for a repeat of the inaugural World Cup final (also played in New Zealand) – All Blacks v France. That should be enough to guarantee a Wales-Australia final.

But it’s not just about rugby. At the weekend I caught up with some industry friends. Jonathan Holland flew in from Singapore to support the English team, while it was great to meet long-time Ferrero travel retail boss Attilio Capuano, now with Italian coffee company Lavazza.

Together with some Kiwi pals we took in the matches and spent a wonderful afternoon on Waiheke Island, just a 45-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and surely one of those places to see before you die.

For any visitors to these shores during the final fortnight of the tournament, I urge a visit to the Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant (below). There you can sup on some lovely local wines, feast yourself on fresh Snapper straight from the Hauraki Gulf, and gaze at panoramic views so beautiful that they make your heart ache.

Let’s hope for better weather this weekend to allow a return visit to Waiheke for the Irish contingent (Colm and Breeda McLoughlin, John and Karl Sutcliffe) who are arriving in Auckland on Friday.

Yes folks, it’s nearly show-time here in Auckland. You can almost feel the expectation of a nation deprived of World Cup glory for 24 years. Amid a poignant background refrain of twanging groin muscles you can also hear the mounting roar of the All Blacks haka. But listen closer… there’s also the jaunt of Waltzing Matilda, the splendour of La Marseillaise and the thrilling wonder that is Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

[Visitors to Eden Park received a warm Maori welcome]

[Conditions are expected to improve in the City of Sails by the weekend]

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  • “I’m narrowly opting for a repeat of the inaugural World Cup final (…) – All Blacks v France.” wrote Mr Moodie.
    I’m with you, Martin.
    1987… 2007…
    and my all-time favourite: 1999. The Revolt. David vs Goliath. Allons enfants de la Patrie!

    Best wishes from up-under
    Pierre Freyssinet