Stunning. The exhibition of rugby photography at Auckland Town Hall is a soul-capturer as well as an eye-catcher.
The three finest pictures, to my profoundly uneducated eye, cover the before, the during and the after.
1) Ross Land's shot of the All Black captain Tana Umaga and his enforcer-in-chief Jerry Collins as the anthems play ahead of the darkly compelling England-New Zealand game at Twickenham in 2005. Collins is blubbing with emotion; Umaga is plain scary – lips pursed, eyes aglow, cheekbones flexed. The face of a man about to win a game for his country through sheer force of character. 2) The famous Wessel Oosthuizen shot of an airborne Frik du Preez, greatest of all Springbok locks, perpetrating his horizontal assault on New Zealand's Chris Laidlaw during the Pretoria Test of 1970. Rugby at its most raw. 3) A celebratory Argentine ring-a-ring-a-roses, brilliantly caught by Cameron Spencer after the Pumas' bronze medal victory over France in 2007. The Parc des Princes is largely deserted, yet a shirtless but heavily bandaged Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Juan Leguizamon and Horacio Agulla, wearing a national flag as the world's biggest bandana, are still dancing, laughing, enjoying.
Price of diverse World Cup worth paying
It would be remiss, this week of all weeks, not to mention another photograph from the display, taken by Andrew Cornaga in 2004, when Fiji played a New Zealand Divisional XV – not their Test team, naturally – at Churchill Park, the wonderfully evocative stadium in Lautoka. The low, flat-roofed stand is well populated; the cloudscape and coconut palms spectacular; the ball sits on the halfway line as the visitors perform their "haka" at the same time as the home side go about their "cibi". The whole of rugby should understand just what it is we are in danger of allowing to wither on the vine through lack of due care and attention. Not least Steve Tew, the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, who, it seems, is quite willing to sacrifice the "developing" nations in exchange for a healthier All Black bank balance.
Johnson gives lesson in style
Martin Johnson has had better things to ponder this week than what amounts to a cultural debate over last Sunday's game between Argentina and Scotland – not least because the result left the England manager facing a do-or-die struggle with the Celts this very morning. Yet he has had things to say about events in Wellington, roundly condemned by many New Zealanders as a wholly negative exercise in anti-rugby. "It was fantastic – a great game," insisted the old Leicester hard-head. "It didn't exactly make you want to get up and leave, did it?" Yet the locals still won't have it. To them, it was like watching the grass grow, and anyone saying differently is either blind or stupid. And as they know best, it is now clear that Johnson missed a trick. If, as a young man, he had stayed in King Country and declared himself an All Black candidate, as certain very senior people here wanted him to do, he might have fulfilled his potential, instead of becoming the best front-jumping lock of the last 30 years. What a waste.