Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 21 September 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.
We parked the car at Eden Park a little after 6.30pm New Zealand time. Eldest, Helen, had worked out the closest points to the stadium outside the parking exclusion zones and we found a place to park without much trouble.
We walked up the quiet suburban streets towards the stadium. My first thought was that we could have been in Armidale; tree-lined streets with weatherboard houses that would have been familiar to any Armidale person.
The streets were already crowded with those going to the game. The Irish were in good voice and indeed had been all day. Driving around Auckland earlier in the day we had found the Irish everywhere!
This was a special trip.
To begin with, I love New Zealand. The Belshaws are a part Kiwi family: Dad was born in Christchurch; I have been to New Zealand many, many times; and we still have family there.
Then, too, this trip had a very special feature.
Helen and I had wanted to go to the previous Rugby World Cup in France. When lack of time and cash made this impossible, we agreed that we would go to New Zealand in 2011.
Again limited time and cash – tickets alone are fiendishly expensive – created problems. Helen was determined: I will take you, she said, and set about making this possible. We decided to go for four days, see the Australia-Ireland match plus do some touring.
As we walked, we got glimpses of the brightly lit Eden Park Stadium through the houses. I don’t quite know how best to describe it, but it has a very particular style highlighted by blue lighting. It’s clearly a stadium, but it’s a little more than this, almost an architectural icon.
New Zealand loves its rugby, and Eden Park is a shrine to that love.
I don’t get to many live sporting matches, but there is always an impact when you come through into the stands with the brightly lit ground before you. Modern sporting events are as much entertainment as sport. Everything is designed to raise emotions, create excitement.
This was a special feature in this case because of the nature of the game. Augmented by Kiwis of Irish descent, the Irish outnumbered Australian supporters almost two to one.
Australia was short priced favourite, but the Irish were determined to do their team proud and lived in hope of an upset. From the beginning, their songs and chants set a tone.
In the lead up to the game, Helen with camera kept rushing to lean over the tunnel to get shots of players coming in or out. Some of the Australian players and officials came to the fence in front of us to talk to people in the crowd, allowing Helen to get herself photographed with some of her heroes!
The game began with an Irish rush that lifted the already high spirits of the Irish supporters. They out cheered and out-sang the Australian supporters. The Irish team in its turn was lifted.
I don’t know what was wrong with the Australian team that day beyond saying that they lived up to their sometimes nickname, the wobblies. They just couldn’t seem to get their act together.
Because of our position, we could clearly see the players leaving at half time or the replacements coming on and off the field. The Australian players were trying, but the body language over the second half was becoming increasing desperate and depressed. Helen and I were depressed too!
I really felt sorry for the Australian team at the end.
We leaned over the edge of the tunnel to watch them do the obligatory line-up, forming two rows through which the Irish team left the stadium. In the midst of the handshakes and pats, the Australian players looked absolutely whipped.
We left the stadium to the celebrating Irish.
As we walked back to the car feeling depressed through the street parties that had erupted in all directions, Helen began working out in her mind just what was now required for Australia to come though in the best way.
We both cheered up. Not all was lost.
Still, it left me wondering just how a team does come back from this type of defeat.
I don’t think that you can blame Robbie Deans as coach. This was a players’ defeat. Only the players themselves can turn it around.