Rugby purdah

01st November 2011
Finally we have emerged from Rugby World Cup (RWC) purdah where all we have watched, eaten, slept and talked about is rugby, hence the radio silence on our part. Mike is wondering what on earth he is going to do now – ah yes the internet and catching up on line with Harlequins performance (top of the league for the first time in I don’t know how long). Here the whole of the country had gone rugby mad; by comparison England 1966 was subdued! To be fair Auckland had also got suburbs to ‘adopt’ another team, so you were just as likely to see a Georgian flag flying in shops and houses. Naturally the Pacific Islands nations with their ex pat communities had tremendous support. We did our bit with our England flag and a line of RWC bunting with all flags of every country taking part.

The opening ceremony took place around where we were moored in the centre of Auckland. Watching the fleet of waka (ceremonial Maori canoes) coming into the Viaduct Marina was a wonderful pageant and watching from the end of the pontoon a ring side seat if ever there was one. We’d been wandering around earlier, much earlier in the day and it was clear the crowds were going to be mega. Sailing club friends Ginnie and Tim called us to say could they come aboard to watch as the normally 10 min walk from the ferry terminal had taken 30 mins and they didn’t hold out much hope of seeing anything from the shore side. So with their friend Penny we had an impromptu party before they went off to catch up with others for the evening. Think the guesstimate of the numbers turning up for the opening down at the waterfront was the one thing the organisers had got wrong.
On the strength of the RWC we’d invested in a TV, so after watching the fireworks from the deck we settled down in comfort to watch the opening ceremony from Eden Park (NZ equivalent of Twickenham) and match.

First thing the next day we flew to Dunedin where the first three of England’s pool games were taking place, after earthquakes had forced them to be moved from Christchurch. Dunedin is a great little town and very Scottish – even has a statue of Robbie Burns in the main square and names redolent of Edinburgh – Princes Street, Corstorphine, Morningside and even the river running through the middle is called the Waters of Leith. The early Scottish explorers laid out the city in a grid – all very sensible only they ignored the contours, not so sensible! So Dunedin now boasts the Guinness Book of Records steepest road in the world – Baldwin Street and several streets have steps up them rather than pavements. Looking at the map our little one bedroom apartment was only 10mins form the centre. The reality was two of the streets en route were so steep the pavement was replaced with steps and another nearly qualified for steps. Tell you, you either get fit or die in Dunedin. Talking of dying it was cold in Dunedin, and I mean cold. Those extra miles further south and closer to Antarctica really made themselves felt. Mike had the electric blanket on every night and we rarely went out without fleeces, waterproofs etc

Think it’s probably best to gloss over the shabby performances of England’s elite squad, on and off the field. Oh the challenges of being an England fan. Still at least we were in a new part of NZ and the time between matches gave us ample opportunity to explore the Otago Peninsular.
It is a wonderful area with some great wild life, for me the Yellow Crested Penguins had to be one of the best. I’ve always pictured penguins in the icy winds of Antarctica or hopping out to the sea onto rocks, not waddling around the countryside. Seriously these little critters can walk up to/around 1km inland and 300m above sea level to get to and from their nesting sites – everyday, so the this sign is serious.

As with other parts of NZ we did our share of visiting ‘historic sites’, don’t mean it nastily but when your house was built in 1910 it’s hard to think of late 1800s as historic – isn’t that just old? Anyway, not to be sniffy, Olveston House was very special as it has been left untouched with all the original Theomin family’s possessions and paraphernalia in situ.
The historic Dunedin Railway Station was a great start point for the trip up and down the Taieri Gorge only sadly she was pulled by a diesel rather than a steam engine.

One thing we have found in NZ is that people are generally much friendlier than the UK. We were chatting to a lady in the tourist information and after a while of talking about this and that she said ‘Hope you don’t think I’m being funny, but would you like to come to dinner?’ So we did, and this isn’t the only time something similar has happened, like ending up going to dinner with Kiwis who sat beside us at the rugby for a couple of matches. Genuinely being open and inviting people into your homes happens far more readily here than in London where I think people would assume you were either an axe murderer or ‘care in the community’. Even Mike has taken to inviting almost random people onto the boat for drinks!

So back to the buzz that was Auckland in the full throes of RWC fever. A 70m long ‘waka’ (canoe) was constructed on the other side of the Viaduct with free music show casing Maori talent most afternoons and a specially constructed building called the Cloud also with several free events, all paid for by Auckland ratepayers – thank you guys.
Every day people were welcomed to the Waka Maori in the traditional way with a powhiri – the Maori challenge by the warriors - and then, once inside a welcome song and speech, haka, dances, and the hongi, the pressing of noses together- the literal sharing of breath - to symbolise living in harmony. As you will have gathered we have fully embraced all the wonderful entertainment and sharing of culture that has been on offer over the RWC period and the iPod collection has been augmented by a couple of acts – Moana and the Tribe and Whirimako Black

Eden Park is 5km from our boat moored in the middle of the Fanzone and party central in Auckland. As well as free trains and buses to and from the grounds on match days they encouraged people to walk by creating a Fan Trail, which was populated by art works from Auckland University Art and Design departments, guides, entertainers and heavens knows what else, all of whom were volunteers. It was marvellous fun and something we did for most of the matches there and back again. Couple of times on the way back we succumbed to a pint, by now midnight as kick off hadn’t been until 8.30 or 9:00pm. One of things that we both so love about rugby is the attitude of the supporters. There may be death and mayhem on the pitch, rude comments in the seats but afterwards you’ll all have a drink together and even commiserate. Certainly several people said ‘Sorry about the English’ and as we looked round the pub we counted shirts from five different countries, all happily drinking together, doubt you’d see that with football fans. Something that was borne out by the police who reported very little trouble, most of it being of the ‘tired and over emotional’, falling over, jumping in the harbour variety.

We had quarter final tickets for Eden Park and so, together with newly made boating friends Jamie and Lucy from further along the pontoon we ate pizzas watching the Wellington based quarter finals opposite Eden Park before dashing over for our matches. England going out was, in some ways a relief, the pre match anxiety and nerves was awful. Now at least we could relax and enjoy proper rugby! With Wales still in with a chance, we emailed Welsh friends for advice but somehow failed to open a link to the words of the national anthem so afraid we did a John Redwood, mouthed words and hummed, perhaps we should have got a red card for our singing! We were told to say ‘Cymru am byth’ – which I did to several Welsh supporters (not sure what it means, but as they didn’t hit me over the head can only assume it’s not rude) and even sang ’Guide me oh thou great Jehovah’ rather than Redeemer. Oh yes and several very loud choruses of Delilah. Was quite hoarse at the end of it all but sadly, well you know the outcome.

So then the only polite thing to do was support your hosts.So out came the All Blacks flag and I even invested in temporary All Blacks tattoos. Pre the Final we were invited to a lovely meal with a group including a couple of Frenchmen in a French restaurant, as you do, and then onto the game. As you can imagine the atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the noise levels unbelievable. If crowd support and enthusiasm scored tries the ABs would have had a dozen or more tries on the board. By the time it got to the second half of the final I was a wreck. Don’t know how the players do it I was exhausted. Then of course the post-match celebrations which ended up on Jamie and Lucy’s boat until the wee small hours.The following day Patrick and Raphael (French men from last night) came aboard for coffee and Raphael’s wife and children joined us and then we went our different ways to find a spot to watch the victory parade. When they had done their last parade in Wellington one reporter, commenting on the fact that the squad will probably never be altogether again summed it up quite poignantly ‘Their time as one is done’.

One of those leaving NZ, even if temporarily is Stephen Donald (for some reason nicknamed Beaver) the winning point scorer now part of the Bath RC squad where he has just played his first game. Must have been something of a comedown: after the world cup, he returned home to find his local town rebranded Beaverville; his local club rebranded “Beaver Park”; and, the local paper appearing as the “Beaverville and Districts Post”!

Here summer is on its way and after a few days boat work, we have unfurled our “white flappy things” and started sailing in the Hauraki Gulf just outside Auckland. After meeting up with friends from the UK visiting Auckland later in the month, we will sail to the top of South Island and the land of sauvignon blanc - Marlborough Sounds, where we will be over Christmas and the early new year. Current plans are a flying visit home in April for a few weeks and hopefully we will catch up with some of you then.

One last rugby thought - hopefully England with ‘four more years’ will get their act together, get a coach and get some of the young talent from the top clubs working together professionally to deliver what we know they can in time for 2015 by which time we plan to have sailed around the other half of the world to see them. Call us naïve, four more years to dream!

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Photo comment By Anita Maguire: Love the penquins crossing!

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