So I’ve never really been much of a rugby girl. I know, I know, shocking for a kiwi. But we’ve really been getting into the Rugby World Cup. I don’t know why, but world events are always more exciting, aren’t they? The olympics, Commonwealth Games, FIFA world cup – I enjoy getting swept up in all the excitement and love all the positivity of those events.
From the outset my favourite team (apart from the All Blacks, of course) was Japan. I love an underdog, but the Japanese also have spirit and play good rugby.
I thought the team name – the “Brave Blossoms” – was a bit unfortunate, but perhaps it sounds cooler in Japanese.
My favourite player on the Japanese team is probably Takashi Kikutani, who is also the captain. He’s great during gameplay, and I thought his postame speeches were really good.
He was really humble and respectful towards the crowd and the other teams, and his first speech began with “Kia ora”, which was awesome.
It was cool to see captains from various non-English speaking countries make the effort to deliver their speeches in English.
On the Japanese team other players to watch included Hiwasa, Onozawa and Robins. And their captain is former All Black John Kirwan, who you may recognise from the ads on TV about depression. He seems like a cool dude. Plus I think I saw him on the news the other night speaking fluent Italian. -I know! Cool!
Something else that I’ve really enjoyed throughout the tournament has been the sense of comraderie, respect and sportsmanship. For me this has been most evident from a racial point of view, for example when watching a game like Japan versus Canada. I think NZ’s quite a racist country but during these games I’ve been really impressed with how the commentators have been respectful towards all teams and each player according to their skill. The Japanese team played better than most people expected them to and apart from some good-natured comments about the height/weight of some of their players compared to their opposition, it was just really… delightful and relaxing listening to exciting, respectful, fair commentary. The motto for the tournament is “World in Union” I think, since the type of Rugby is union (as opposed to league – see? I know stuff!) and there’s been a good vibe so far.
Just before the RWC we visited Northland. We traveled all round the region for a few days and everywhere we went we saw red, red, red! Encouraged to adopt a second team for RWC 2011, Northland went all out with their Paint It Red campaign, supporting Canada, Japan and Tonga, all teams with red and white flags. They were everywhere!
Perhaps for this reason Canada was another one of our teams-to-watch.
Or perhaps the reason was Kleeberger. The Canadians caused a bit of a sensation with their bearded players, and none was more bearded than Adam Kleeberger. Looking like the good mannered wild Canadian bush man who’d just wandered in and smashed everyone, the commentators couldn’t help but comment on his glorious facial hair at the beginning of each of Canada’s matches. And the Kleeberger was everywhere! He was everywhere with his wild beard and piercing eyes; he was always in the middle of it. When he spoke it was always a surprise because he just seemed so… Canadian. And polite. I do like politeness.
Trying to imagine Kleeberger without his beard is kind of sad.
And now for those who didn’t fare so well in the tournament. And we must start with Namibia. Ah, Namibia. I did not watch any of your games as I thought they’d be too depressing. And I think I was right. The closest score for a Namibian game was their 49-25 loss to Fiji, the biggest loss was 87-0 to South Africa. Ouch. I like an underdog, but that’s ridiculous! Nowhere to go but up, fellas!
Another team I feel really sorry for is Wales. Not because they suck – actually the opposite – they played so well and were robbed in their semifinal against France after their captain was red carded for a dangerous tackle after 20 minutes. Of course they missed about a million kicks as well (ok, more like 3 or 4) but they scored the only try and just played way better than France.
On an individual level there’s a bit of a mysterious vibe surrounding one man in the tournament – the Wallabies’ Quade Cooper. He’s booed every game (apparently by both sides) and seems to be picked on by every commentator. In the team picture of him on the right is like the only time I’ve ever seen him not frowning. The man always has such a tortured expression.In the game against the All Blacks I started to close my eyes and wish “don’t pass it to Quade” just because I didn’t want him to stuff up and give people a chance to jeer at him. When he got the ball in the second half though – he was dangerous! And he did get a drop goal which in the end was half of Australia’s total points, so I don’t know what everyone was on about.
Funniest moment in the tournament so far came early – of course, it was Sonny Bill Williams’ shirt. In the opening game against Tonga the sleeve of Sonny Bill’s shirt was torn and left hanging. In a stunning display of cinematography the camera zoomed in and switched to slow motion as Sonny Bill reached across and ripped the sleeve off, revealing his beautifully tattooed arm. It only got better for SBW fans as at the first opportunity a new shirt was produced, but after stripping off getting into the new infamously tight black shirt was a bit of mission, even with the help of the All Blacks’ doctor. It couldn’t have been scripted better, it was ridiculous.
Hilarious. An article in the NZ Herald (“Sonny Bill Stunner – he’s ripped alright”), reported (male) radio personality Dominic Harvey tweeting during the match “SBW shirt rips on his tattooed side? Too good to be true. And then a slow-mo of the rip. Even I’m aroused.”
He told the Herald on Sunday that everyone at his house, including the men, were glued to the TV when the shirt came off. “I’m completely comfortable with my sexuality to admit he is a handsome fellah,” Harvey said.
Another note on the new shirts – Sonny Bill and Ma’a did a funny wee interview for it when it first came out.
[Interviewer: If you had to define the jersey, the All Blacks jersey, more than just a piece of fabric, or a cloth or t-shirt, what is it?]
SBW: Well actually it’s 20% cotton, ah, 30% silk and, um, – what’s
the other 50%?
SBW: Polyester. That’s what the jersey’s actually made of.
MN: Can’t tumble dry it.
MN: Has to be hand washed.
SBW: Hand washed. Every week.
SBW: [Cracks up]
MN: What? …You started it!
SBW: …Sorry, what was the question?
The whole video’s pretty good – search for “New All Blacks jersey to be ‘nice and tight’ ” on YouTube.
Back then the new shirt was quite controversial I think, people like the white collars (like those worn in 1987 when NZ last won the trophy) but even then it was obvious how tight they were. (The phrase “painted on” was used exhaustively). In last night’s match Jerome Kaino also had to change shirt, or put his one back on during the game, and it was just as hard to get on!
Of course I’ve saved the best for last – the mighty All Blacks! Not being a rugby fan I’ve always kind of thought of it as a pretty brutal game which is won on brawn rather than skill. But it’s actually really skillful and exciting. And I know I’m biased, but I reckon the boys in black are some of the most skillful of all.
My favourite player on the All Blacks is Ma’a Nonu. Not just because he’s got the coolest name in the tournament. Not just because of his wicked dreads or his bright red shoes. Not just because he’s both cute and hunky. Not even just because he does one awesome haka. But because he’s also a really great player! Not just scoring flashy tries but doing heaps of work all over the field.
Pretty much whenever the ABs get the ball I’m yelling “PASS IT TO NONU!” Last night they listened – and that’s how we got our try 😀
Pretty pumped for the final next week now! I know lots of people called the ABs vs. Wallabies game last night “the real final” – them’s fighting words but let’s not take anything for granted. We’re gunna be a country of nervous people next weekend, lemme tell you.
Go the mighty ABs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!