New Zealand v France, RWC2011 Final, Eden Park, Auckland, October 2011
This was the most tense, frightening, exciting, cacaphonous, clock-defying, tightest game of Test rugby I have ever had to sit through. So much has been written already that I don’t feel I have to go over the game in depth, we have all seen it, had it burned on our retinas, but there are things that stood out for me. Things I will NEVER forget about October 23 2011. On the free buses to Eden Park, everyone we saw in their front yards, or walking to friends’ houses or pubs to watch the game was waving at US, like they were acknowledging ticket holders had a bigger role to play in the game. They were encouraging us to do our bit, to lift the All Blacks in person. It was incredible. Eden Park was stunning, again ... humming with the expectation of not only those headed inside to watch the Final live, but due to being surrounded by informal residents’ shindigs. The RWC volunteers (who have made this Cup) were working overtime to welcome and explain everything to the visitors. My compadre, Bale, and I walked a lap of the ground to check out the scenes before going in, as if to cast some anti-French hex on the turf by encircling it. We saw buskers, BBQs, French fans mingling with All Black fans ... all taking turns in front of both the Michael Jones and Dave Gallagher statues for photos. Festivale! Our Category A seats’ vista rivalled that of the TV cameras; we were looking down on SpiderCam! The location also gave us full aural and visual 360 for the game; the rise and fall of collective emotions in the crowd. Right from anthems, the All Black fans never gave up. The week before at the semi-final I had never heard a louder anthem sung by New Zealand fans ... but for the Final it went up another notch. We’d not beat the Welsh for pitch perfectness ... but for volume and pride we blew out to a new benchmark. Stunning. I loved the French response to the haka: they get it. It is not disrespectful to challenge it back at all, and they, alone, keep coming up with their own way to gain an edge against it. Any IRB fine for crossing halfway is just petty. I still think 8-7 belies the quality of that game. There was as much to please the old school purists and enough intent to entertain the expansive rugby fans. I was in Cardiff in 2007 (Day 71), and the tangible anger that surged through AB fans as that game slipped away from us was not present this year, even as things looked grim at 8-7 ... there was creeping disbelief and stress, but I never felt it was gone or hopeless this time. That hope rumbled and surged back in the last 10 and when we got the ball back, and ran the clock down with those pick and gos from the 76th minute on, the crowd began to party. And we all stayed there for another hour. Last one out turn out the lights. Other memories: Jock Hobbs’ cheer was 3x bigger than John Keys’; the appreciative roar given to France when they got their medals; the din when the All Blacks went up to get their medals; Andrew Hore immediately checking if the Cup’s lid came off; Brad Thorn’s fist pumping; Ma’a Nonu demanding Vito surrender his coat to keep his son Mercury warm. However, my moment of the night? After the Cup was lifted, when we spotted Cory Jane and Israel Dagg breaking away from the group, running like ratbags (to a Takapuna Bar perhaps?) to lie in the the fallen silver confetti to do snow angels. Awesome. I will never, ever forget that night.