What are we meant to be watching here: a World Cup or a cabaret? Sunday's captivating tussle between Argentina and Scotland in wet and windy Wellington went down like a lead Zeppelin in downtown Auckland, where one local, sipping a Belgian "bruin" (you don't gulp it at these prices) was heard to describe events as a "crashing bore". Cue argument. "Mate, I've been following this sport for 40 years and I'm telling you we're in paint-drying territory," was his final contribution, a super-smug "that's that" look on his face. To which we humble Brits might point out, ever so politely, that for well over half of those 40 years, the All Blacks have played beautiful rugby at these tournaments and have won precisely nada.
They've turned on our lovely bankers
The New Zealanders ought to find a way of winning something this time: having the best back-row forwards, the best midfield and the best coaching team always gives you a squeak. And then there is the Auckland factor: after this weekend, they'll spend the rest of the tournament in the big city, where they have not lost since 1994. Assuming they do lay hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy, might they stop piling into all things European for an hour or so? Apart from accusing Fiji and Samoa of performing like teams from the old continent – "The Pacific Nations have turned into the Six Nations," lamented one pundit – and laying charges against English and French clubs over their employment of players from the South Seas, they also have it in for our brilliantly successful financial sector. Under the headline "Rocky week looms for NZ markets", the New Zealand Herald quotes one broker as saying: "I don't think we'll see an improvement until decisive action is taken in Europe." Ah, give it a rest! You can't blame honest-to-goodness investment bankers for pocketing multi-million-pound bonuses while running the economy into the ground. If they stopped doing that, how could they afford to turn up here in striped blazers and cravats and drink the stuff masquerading as beer at £7.50 a pint?
Even the Grim Reaper's welcome in NZ
In all seriousness, the hosts have laid on one hell of a show through the pool stage, which now enters its final phase. A full house at Eden Park for the Fiji-Samoa game; another at Otago Stadium for little old England against poor old Romania ... if there is another country capable of embracing a rugby tournament so completely – with such warmth, knowledge, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit – few if any of us have ever travelled there. A snapshot: when Serge Betsen, the wonderful French flanker of yore, walked into an Auckland bar to cast an eye over the Argentina-Scotland game, he was besieged by supporters seeking a simple shake of the hand. Is this the first time in recorded history that so many people have rushed to meet the Grim Reaper?Reuse content