The alarm rattled the chilly darkness of the campervan at 5:45. I struggled out from under the duvet. Ten minutes later I was dressed and trudging through the gradually brightening day to catch the bus from the vineyard village of Martinborough to Featherston where the train would carry me to Wellington for press conferences with South African, Irish, and Australian players and coaches on the eve of the quarterfinals.
At 9 a.m. the South African forwards coach gave the expected answers to the expected questions. The “enormity of the match is something we are all aware of.” The Aussies will not be underestimated. They are “not Tri-Nation champs for nothing.” We’re taking the knock-out round matches one at a time, but being the first nation to win back-to-back World Cup and capture the title 3 times is a motivational tool that will not be overlooked.
The Irish press conference was more lighthearted. The defense coach (Les Kiss, I believe) in his first response to a question about what could we expect in the match threw out that it would be a “Ding Dong Battle.” The “Ding Dong Battle” phrase popped into almost every answer that followed. Jamie Heaslip cast aside any hopes that this would be a match fueled by intense rivalries. He spoke of how they had played each other many times both in 6 Nation matches and club matches. Many of the players played together. In fact they had joined up with some of the Welsh players earlier in the week to tour around Wellington. Jamie concluded by saying, ‘It will be a ding-dong battle, but we’ll have a drink together afterwards.’ He also gave shout-out to the American physio team that was with them keeping them fit and recovering quickly.
The Wallaby press conference had journalist packed into a curtained off hallway in the hotel where the team was staying. There were 3 sessions. The first session was with head coach Robbie Deans, an assistant coach, and the President of the Australian Rugby Union. The other 2 session were with 4 players. In the first session Coach Deans assured journalists that the “real” Wallabies would be showing up on Sunday because of the “context” of the match. Their recent success over the Springboks in the Tri-Nations is now ancient history and not relevant to Sunday’s match. After questions about the impact flankers Pocock and Brussow would have on the match and the usual answers about these players being key to the team’s success by providing clean quick ball and avoiding penalties, the journalists quizzed the ARU President about the future of the World Cup. One very direct question was, “Will Australia ever pull-out of the World Cup – yes or no?” With a chuckle he replied with a quote he attributed to a South African, “We’ll double cross that bridge when we get there.” When asked if he could estimate the amount of money the ARU would lose because of the World Cup, he replied he had an exact amount – $16 million and the SANZAR total was $38 million. Discussions over timing, distribution of revenue to the major unions, rules for commercial endorsements, and needed changes to the governance and administration of the IRB will start when this World Cup is over. As the sun warmed the crowded hallway at the Rydges Hotel a giant shadow loomed over the future of the World Cup.