Ruck and Maul: Stacked-up sofas signal the kick-off of a national obsession


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The Independent Online

A widely held view is that the cost of hosting the World Cup means this is New Zealand's last chance to see the tournament on their shores and, even if they can find the money, it is unlikely to be back before 2023 at the earliest.

Everyone is aware and the excitement is rippling up and down what the New Zealand Herald has re-dubbed the "Land of the Long Bright Crowd", from the breathless reporter on the Rhema Christian radio station who joined the throng for Friday's opening match in Auckland – "this as big as the FA Cup final and Lord's and all that" – to the Pirates rugby club in Dunedin who erected a three-sided mini-stadium of benches around the big TV screen in their clubhouse.

Keen viewers in Wellington achieved the same effect with a stack of sofas to watch the All Blacks defeat Tonga. As Martin Johnson put it the other day: "When there's a crowd of 40,000 in a ground here, that's one per cent of the population."

Side-door entry beats dragnet

Watertight security is a sine qua non of major sporting events, along with "clean stadiums" to satisfy fussy sponsors, and journalists, simply seeking a decent quote to plug a match in the local rag, celebrate any minor victory over the machine.

When the USA team went to Wanganui to prepare for today's meeting with Ireland, their ever amenable and voluble coach Eddie O'Sullivan had his time with reporters managed by a miserly media flunkie. And security guards at the Cooks Gardens training ground denied entry to anyone not possessing a World Cup accreditation, which was not much use to reporters only wanting to document that the Eagles had landed locally.

One resourceful blunt-nib, however, knew what the CIA, Special Ops and the IRB didn't. The Wanganui Rugby Union offices are inside Cooks Gardens, the gates to which were padlocked with all advertising blacked out. But the offices of Sport Wanganui are just outside.

Stroll into the Sport Wanganui offices, go down a corridor and into the Netball Wanganui offices, slide open a patio door and, hey presto, you're on the field, ID tag or no ID tag.

Dragons' unbeaten run

Wales put their record of never losing a World Cup match in New Zealand on the line against South Africa today.

At the 1987 World Cup the Welsh defeated Ireland in Wellington, Tonga in Palmerston North, Canada in Invercargill and Australia in Rotorua. The big glitch was the 49-6 quarter-final defeat by the All Blacks in Brisbane, Australia.