Dunedin when the World Cup is in town is a good place to be. The place was already jumping when we arrived on Saturday afternoon and only calmed down once the haze of Sunday evening had faded into a somewhat jaded Monday morning.
Saturday was all about Australia v Ireland. Dunedin was full of Irish (where isn’t?) and English as well as the locals so it is fair to say that support for the Wallabies was rather thin on the ground. Having eased our way into the evening’s entertainment by watching an impressive South Africa ruthlessly dispose of a disappointing Fiji, we headed inevitably towards an Irish pub called The Bog for the big match.
The atmosphere was electric but in truth it was one of hope rather than expectation. This is the type of game which Ireland have historically lost in World Cups, particularly to the Tri-Nations. Wales had lost a similar game only the previous weekend and amidst the excitement there was a fair amount of fear that the same fate may await the Irish but fear slowly morphed into genuine belief as the clock ticked into the 70s. The outpouring of joy at the final whistle was something to behold, not just from the Irish but also from the locals and the English who share a deep love for seeing their old rivals Australia lose under any circumstances, let alone in such a big game.
The rest of the evening is something of a closed book save for some extremely entertaining video footage which is very much staying on tour.
Sunday morning (well, lunchtime) saw a nutritious breakfast (well, lunch) and some physical and mental preparation for England’s game against Georgia. Once Hutch had picked up his media ticket, having looked after number one and left Justin and I in the cheap seats, we headed to Otago University Rugby Club to watch the Wales v Samoa game, a titanic struggle won late on by an improving Welsh team who finally look ready to do themselves justice at a World Cup.
The new Otago Stadium is some construction being as it is completely enclosed. It is quite an intimate stadium and, in our front row seats, we could virtually reach out and touch the players. The boisterous optimism of the thousands of England fans was matched by the exuberance of a decent number of Georgians and many of the locals who had adopted Georgia for the day. It made for a terrific atmosphere although as England laboured their supporters got more and more agitated.
In the end, while the result was never truly in doubt, it was a hugely frustrating performance by England with many of the same failings in evidence as in previous games – lack of numbers and dynamism at the breakdown leading to a lack of quick ball, no depth out wide and a criminal lack of discipline and astronomic penalty count. It was also irritating to see players such as Delon Armitage celebrating their late tries like a team satisfied with how they had gone. If you’re playing like that a little humility wouldn’t go amiss.
It was a pretty cynical crowd of England fans who made their way into the night but one determined not to let their team’s struggles ruin their evening. And they didn’t.
The Kiwis are pretty unimpressed by England, unsurprisingly, but they are concerned about the ramifications of Ireland’s win against the Aussies. Australia, who have been a nemesis in past World Cups, are now likely to be on their side of the draw. However NZ will probably now have to play only one of their Tri-Nations rivals to take the trophy. In fact most of the Kiwis we have come across. have been quite introspective, focussing very much on their own team with little interest in what others are doing. The implication here is that they feel the only team who can beat them is themselves.
We are back in Dunedin this coming weekend for England v Romania when we hope to see a considerably improved display. During the week we have explored the impressive Otago Peninsula, taken in an open England training session (still absolutely no depth out wide, unbelievable) and are currently in a gem of a spot called Curio Bay, pretty much the southern-most point of New Zealand, making friends with penguins. All in all not a bad way to spend a week. We even went for a dip in the sea which was colder than the coldest ice bath I have ever experienced. That didn’t last long. It is very remote down here, decent Internet connection might reach here soon but has not yet and it’s actually quite liberating to be completely cut off.
Still, we are looking forward to our return to Dunedin and hopefully signs of progress from England.
by Stuart Peel