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‘Stay positive, says Dan’s dad.’
Only in New Zealand…
The front page headline of Christchurch’s ‘The Press’ newspaper was dedicated not to international affairs, not to the aftermath of the local earthquakes, not to the soaring local employment rate.
Instead it referred to an interview with the father of New Zealand’s stricken sporting hero Dan Carter (known as ‘Saint Daniel’ to most of us).
Like most of the population of this rugby-mad nation, Mr Carter Snr. is in a state of shock about the tournament-ending injury suffered by his and the country’s favourite son on Sunday.
Dan Carter is to New Zealand what Lionel Messi is to Barcelona FC, Wayne Rooney to England, Ronaldo to Portugal. Except multiply that status fivefold. Dan is the man. Dan is a magician dressed as a rugby player. Dan can play the piano, dance like Nureyev, and make the country’s entire female community (and many of its men) swoon, all while gliding across the turf with a rugby ball in hand. He can drop kick with his eyes closed, sidestep with his legs tied together, run a game like a master conductor.
Dan is an icon. Dan has mana as they say here. He models underwear, he’s impeccably mannered, hell he can probably even cook…
Dan was going to bring deliverance. Deliverance of a Rugby World Cup to a land yearning for redemption after 24 long years of failure. Dan would bring home the trophy that means more to Kiwis than just about anything on the planet. It was written…
Now, all that has changed. In the split second that it took for Dan to tear a groin muscle while practising his goal kicking, a nation’s hopes nosedived. Like husbands experiencing sympathetic pregnancy pains, grown men felt the agony in their pectoral muscles and fell to the ground in a collective show of national unity and despair. Well, almost…
It’s almost impossible to describe the sense of first bewilderment and then calamity that descended on this nation of 4 million people and 40 million sheep at that moment. Even the latter looked miserable in their fields as news of Dan the man’s injury spread like wildfire through the land. In a country where rugby is religious fundamentalism, Kiwis comment on where they were when they heard about Dan’s injury in the way people remember what they were doing when John F Kennedy was shot.
The king is dead. Long live the… journeyman. For now the talented but inexperienced Colin Slade steps into Carter’s god-like boots. A nation’s expectation that the Cup is at last coming home has been replaced by a deep sense of anxiety blended with an almost desperate hope. Big game critters, in the form of Pumas, Wallabies and Springboks, loom menacingly, all determined to ensure that these particular Kiwis, unlike the national icon, take flight.
But take it from me. Dan or no Dan, the 2011 All Blacks’ vintage is a fine one. And this time it’s peaking at just the right time. Colin Slade will surely be given the keys to every duty free shop in the land after he, the journeyman who would be king, pilots the men in black to victory.
Watch this space. The Moodie Blog is heading to Auckland for the weekend’s quarter finals. We’re meeting up with a number of industry friends who are arriving in the country for the latter stages of the tournament. And who knows, we may even see Dan Carter. Sitting in the stand.