The Rugby World Cup was launched last night with a stunning opening ceremony and an impressive All Black win (41-10) over a physical but tedious Tongan side who seemed very afraid to move the ball outside and a bit stupid about kicking away possession. Sonny Bill Williams at #12 for the All Blacks was magical with his famous or infamous (depending on which camp you want to view them from) offloads. Graham Henry’s selections of relatively inexperienced fullback Israel Dagg (7 caps) and winger Richard Kahui (12 caps) were vindicated, and Kahui probably earned himself a starting spot for the rest of the tournie.
Carolyn and I drove 5 hours yesterday from Turangi to get to Wellington in time to watch the opening ceremony on the big screen at the Fanzone on the waterfront. On the drive down we listened to talk radio which was of course full of world cup news and tidbits. The hosts joked about a plate of the Tongan delicacy fried corn beef that someone had brought in for them to try. (The local corn beef is more like our Spam.) All-Black captain of the 1987 World Cup winning side David Kirk was interviewed about many things from how he still remembers lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy to the state of the professional game today. He supported the professional game and pretty much all that came with it. The interviewer pushed him to say that professionalism was forcing the spontaneity out of the game. His reply was the professional player is now free to focus on the game without the daily concerns of making a living and many life management issues that non-professional sports people have to deal with. The opening ceremony and match was carried on 5 New Zealand tv stations and 4 of them were going to put advertisements between the hakas and the kick-off. For U.S. sports fan we have long embraced commercials as part of watching sports on tv and a good time to get a cold one. Kirk was comfortable with the growing commercialism in rugby union as it pays the bills that allows the players to focus on the game.
After parking and plugging in the camper van we took the bus to downtown Wellington and got a seat at an outside table at a pub with a view of the big screen in the Fanzone. I had a pint of cider and Carolyn a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (NZ$8 each) and were well placed to wait the 3 hours until the opening ceremony. The temperature was in the 40s and a strong wind was blowing, An inredible ukulele band started performing on the stage. They covered an amazing range of songs from Led Zeppelin (Sunshine of Your Love) to Kenny Rogers (Ruby Don’t Take your Love to Town). A couple from New Plymouth sat down at our table and after chatting awhile they offered us a camping spot in their driveway for USA v Russia match and any other time we were in New Plymouth. By 6:30 we were freezing and hungry and not interested in the NZ$19 fish and chips the pub had on offer. We left in search of food and a bit or warmth and found ourselves by the bus stop back to our campground. Thirty minutes later we were on the couch in front of the fire in the campsite’s tv room watching the opening ceremony, hakas, advertisements, and match with local kiwis, welsh, irish, and French rugby fans.