In a couple of hours I will be on a plane flying back to the USA. Although the World Cup has been over for a couple of weeks, my World Cup adventure ends today. My journey into ‘real’ sports journalism as a credentialed member of the press corps came to a close with the New Zealand press conference after their World Cup victory on October 23rd. Over the past two weeks I traveled the South Island soaking in the incredible, awe inspiring beauty of that part of this fabulous country and enjoying the continuing fantastic hospitality of this rugby loving nation.
In the aftermath of the All Blacks narrow 1 point victory over France in the Final talk about this All Black team being one of the great teams of all time has vanished. The news has moved on to election coverage. New Zealand elects its Parliament and new leader (or retains John Keyes) in two weeks. Sport news has been dominated by the New Zealand cricket team’s tour to Zimbabwe and the Kiwi women’s netball games in Australia. Several Kiwis have spoken about the emotion following the World Cup win was more relief than jubilation. The sporting news follows All Black players as they sign with various Super League sides or English teams, but comparisons of this team with the great teams of years past has silently disappeared. The country recognizes they were outplayed by the French on the evening. They also most assuredly realize that they were more deserving of the trophy. In a tournament that does not always recognize the most deserving team, this was a fitting end. When the build-up to the 2015 World Cup in England begins reflections on the 2011 All Blacks will begin, but for now a sigh of relief is enough.
The All Blacks were certainly the deserving team to lift the Web Ellis trophy. They were the only team that went the whole tournament without losing a match and before their close call with France in the Final they were not seriously threatened. For a nation of a little over 4 million people they are definitely a rugby giant and the greatest team in the world. Of the 4 teams that made it to the semi-finals three were coached by Kiwis. As I traveled through the country the reason for their greatness became evident. In almost every elementary school yard there was a set of mini-goal posts. I went to 3 horse racing events. At each of these there were kids as young as 4 years old passing a rugby ball around. At one of these racing events I watched a kid no older than five practice kicking and catching pop-ups with both feet. He lined up a penalty kick and using an imitation James O’Connor-style kicked a beautiful 20 meter kick. As the All Blacks went through 3 replacements for Dan Carter and fourth choice fly-half (or first five eighth as they call it here), Steve Donald, kicked the Final winning penalty, hundreds more were preparing to take his place to ensure that it won’t be another 24 years before the All Blacks lift the Webb Ellis trophy again.