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Do you think winning the Rugby World Cup might mean a lot to the Kiwis? Do you think we tend to take game a little seriously in these parts?
If one was in any doubt then all you have to do is pick up a copy of today’s New Zealand Herald.
The entire front page is dedicated to a call to (rugby) arms from All Blacks legend Sir Wilson Whineray, entitled ‘For game and country’.
The great man writes of Sunday’s final between the All Blacks and France: “Tomorrow night we come to the end of a fabulous journey, both as All Blacks and as a nation. The country has celebrated the Rugby World Cup tournament, embraced it, rejoiced in it and relished what it has brought to us.
“What a marvellous event, reminding us what rugby can be, what it means to the country and how sport can put a smile on a nation’s face in difficult times.
“While it has been a memorable cup, New Zealand should also be ready for the wrong result tomorrow night. France is also a proud nation. Win or lose, we will be humble and gracious, no matter what happens.
“If things don’t go as well as we would hope tomorrow night, remember the team has done wonderfully well. One of the glories of sport is that there is always a winner and a loser. No one has a monopoly on winning in sport. Fortunately, winning is never forever – but neither is defeat.
“Whatever happens, we should applaud the All Blacks, and all those throughout the nation who have helped to make this tournament such a joy.”
Sir Wilson’s salutory reminder that either of two sides could win this match, despite the All Blacks’ heavy favouritism, was reinforced by another Herald article entitled ‘When France get to the final, all bets are off’.
Well not quite. Last weekend’s All Blacks-Wallabies grudge match became the country’s biggest rugby betting event, with punters splurging almost NZ$2 million. That total is set to be exceeded for the final, despite the tiny odds on an All Blacks victory.
Yet scratch beneath the pride and passion of this ‘stadium of 4 million spectators’ and you’ll find a deep sense of unease that a third dose of World Cup misery at the hands of ‘Les Bleus’ is possible.
You see, for us Kiwis, this is more than a game. This is everything. And most certainly it is redemption after 24 years of abject failure at World Cup level in a game that defines a nation more than any sport does to any other, save perhaps Brazil and football.
Meanwhile, French reinforcements are arriving. OIivier Bottrie, President, Travel Retailing Worldwide at Estée Lauder (pictured below with Colm and Breeda McLoughlin and The Moodie Report’s Peter Dowling), hosted a group of us at the bronze final between Australia and Wales (won by Australia) last night, and rugby rather than duty free will be the subject of most conversation at a Lauder-hosted industry dinner tonight.
French Champagne and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are certain to be on the menu. Then it will be on to some good Bordeaux and Central Otago Pinot Noir. Red wines. The colour of blood. Plenty of that will be spilled tomorrow night in a titanic showdown for game and country.
[“Don’t you ever do that to Brian O’Driscoll again!” Karl and John Sutcliffe confront legendary All Black Tana Umaga.]