RWC 2011 Semi-final #2
New Zealand vs Australia
20 - 6 (14-6 at the half)
Location: Eden Park
Referee: Craig Joubert
in short: Kiwi's everywhere breathed a collective "aaahhh" as their beloved boys in Black have done the business so far, especially to our cocky neighbours from across the ditch, and made it to the final!
a bit more detail:
This RWC has been a really great tournament, not only because of the quality of the rugby (not universally of course, but there was a lot of great footy played), but because of the way that the fans have embraced it.
I attended one of the first games, England vs Argentina in Dunedin at the new stadium down there.
This game was scheduled to be played in my home town, Christchurch, but a little quake or two conspired against that happening and all the Christchurch games were reallocated around the country.
I had tickets to two games, but the other one (Aust vs Italy) was moved to North Harbour so I opted out of that one.
This one was far more attractive though, given my brother and his family live in Dunedin, and the new covered stadium has just been opened.
I went with my brother, his father-in-law and my dad and we were all quite stunned by the feeling of electricity in the air as we entered the new stadium. England and Pumas fans were everywhere, all dressed up and, in the case of the Puma fans, singing and chanting and laughing it up. Those Argentinians know how to party!
In comparison were we all fairly impartial spectators, apart from the fact that I could never support England in rugby, and certainly not wearing black. Go Pumas! :)
The game showed some signs of life but really it was pretty ugly rugby, however the close score line meant that it was certainly tense and dramatic throughout. Also, the fact that we got to witness Johnny Wilkinson's self-confessed worst game ever was very enjoyable. By the time he had missed his 3rd kick I was high-fiving my new Argentinan mates in celebration too.
Unfortunately for them they were big contributors to the atrocious 6 out of 18 goalkicking record for the game and as a result, they lost.
I think I have watched at least the highlights for all 47 games so far, which is amazing in itself. As a self-titled rugbyhead I have been known to watch this game a bit, but even in the RWC setting I have never watched so many matches that didn't involve teams that I have some emotional attachment to. Like so many other kiwis, I have got wrapped up in the whole event. It's been great.
Obviously I have watched my boys in black proceed through the competition on TV, but when my wife Cindy got offered a free ticket to the All Blacks vs France pool match and, to my surprise (and hers) accepted it, the possibility of convincing her that we should spend 2 months groceries on some tickets to the likely All Blacks semi became a distinct possibility!
The fact that Cindy came back from the game buzzing about how great it was settled that decision. When the RWC released a bunch of great Category A tickets (that had been put back into the pot by some travel agents who couldn't sell them off as part of their exorbidant packages) we decided to buy them when they were offered up to people who were already in the lottery first.
We bought tickets to the second semi, All Blacks vs Wallabies. When selecting the tickets I couldn't believe that they appeared to be right on half-way (I initially figured it was a bug in their seat map website) but that is certainly where they were, right on half-way, at the back of section 321, immediately in front of the media seating, and above the players tunnel. (The big star on the map below, I got carried away finding an eden park map, so figured I'd add our ticket stubs... just because I could).
We parked our boys with my family for the weekend, and flew up to Auckland on Sunday morning and then spent a great day in Auckland with our mate Llew, who took us out to lunch and for a walk down the waterfront where the main RWC fan zone is located.
It was a lovely day so there were a lot of people milling around down there, but the actual party zone felt a bit too much like a giant booze barn for our liking. No doubt great atmosphere for having a beer and watching the game on the multiple giant screens at night, but at 3pm in the afternoon with the sun shining outside the punters who were already well on their way just looked a bit sad to us! (Maybe we are getting old, but in retrospect I think that fact that we had shelled out a mint for our tickets to the actual game meant there was no way I was getting tanked up before hand and risking missing some of the action!)
As with all the evening games, it didn't kick off until 9pm, so we didn't actually start heading Eden Park way until about 8pm. Llew dropped us off at the intersection between Great North Road and Bond Street and we joined the stream of people heading towards Eden Park along the Eden Park Fan trail.
This walk was really cool. I was struck by the incredible show of national pride on display everywhere in Auckland, with flags and signs everywhere and this was just amplified along the Fan trail. More flags everywhere and flat parties and revelry all the way along to Eden park.
This was great and all, but it did raise my anxiety levels about what it might all look like in a couple of hours if the ABs lost!
I could tell that all the Wallaby supporters were much more relaxed about it all. For sure they were there to back their boys, but I think they were getting as much of a buzz of winding up the AB supporters any chance they had. (Sounds like someone we know eh Geeves )
We got into the stadium with no dramas, picking up a very nice programme on the way in.
Our seats were indeed right on the half-way line. Really excellent seats. We had an Aussie couple sitting next to us and we broke the ice by both saying how amazed we were with the seats. They had also just purchased their tickets when the re-released tickets were made available, so they were feeling equally fortunate.
Right behind us were the media contingent. We recognized a few notable faces, Peter Montgomery, David Campese, Philippe Sella and former english prop Brian Moore, who was doing a live audio forecast, which was quite a laugh to hear. (who needs SportsEars!)
The pre-match warmup was a laugh with the army band doing a great little routine boggieing away to a set of pop tunes (incl. Michael Jackson) and performing a haka.
There was just so much energy in the place. The teams came out to a huge ovation, everyone stood for the anthems (and even some kiwis sung along not only with the Australian anthem but also with the maori verse of God of Nations!).
By the time that the ABs were lining up to do the haka the hairs on the back of my neck were starting to stand up (I'm sure those hairs were located further north a few years back ).
The haka was awesome, and you could see all that the players were amped up too. Unfortunately some of them channelled it better than others. Our beloved Quade kicked too long on his kick off, and from the responding scrum on half-way Piri Weepu kicked a great little kick over the top, setting up a lineout about 5m out from the Wallaby line.
The ABs kept the pressure on, forcing a 5m scrum, and then bringing the Dagg man into the line, fending off ex-captain Rocky on his way towards the side-line, and popping a miracle pass in the tackle to Nonu, who crashed over in the corner for an amazing try.
Piri missed the tricky conversion, and then missed a kickable penalty not long after, which prompted the Wallaby fan to my right to say "you need to kick those mate, I'd be worried...". I think he actually believed that at the time, and I must admit I was a little concerned too, especially when after kicking his next penalty offering to take it to 8-0 the Wallabies came storming back.
Ioane made one of his trademark searing runs, and even though Jerome "the rock" Kaino and friends managed to withstand that attack not long after Richie was pinged and Quade had a chance to add 3 of his own. 8-3 after about 15 minutes.
That was really the last attacking opportunity the Wallabies got with the scorelines close. Cruden stretched it to 11-3 with a droppie (all of a sudden I love dropkicks!) and not long after Quade showed that he could kick those too, 11-6 after 32.
Piri slotted another penalty just before the half and 14-6 felt pretty comfortable to me going into the break. Even though it was only a converted try from being a nail biter the Wallabies just didn't seem as threatening tonight as they have been in the past, or maybe the ABs had just stepped up another gear.
at half time I made the mistake of looking up the score in the NZ vs Aust league test that was on the same night. Ouch... I got a laugh when I showed that result to my Wallaby neighbour, suggesting they had won that one, so we could have this one. Fortunately that wasn't the last laugh.
The second half seemed to last for ever, but the Wallabies just seemed a bit lost in terms of tactics, they bashed away at the AB line with little success, and when they chose to bomb it high Jane and his mates in black at the back were safe on every take, launching an attack in response, and helping to drive the Wallabies back into their half of the field.
Having seen it happen before I was nervous until the last few minutes though, but when Cruden slotted a penalty with about 7 minutes to go to take it to 20-6 it felt safe, and it was.
Ahhhhhhhh, the relief!
We left the stadium grinning with the other 60,000 fans in black and wandered up and away from the crowds to hail a taxi. As a funny side note we ended up getting the taxi which a very inebriated english fan, who was in front of us for hailing a cab, was ejected from as the cabbie "didn't like the smell of his arse." The fan was not amused. We were.
A great event, a great result. Can't complain about that!
Now, let's make sure we can bring the same intensity to the French in the final, if so then there is no way they will be able to keep up with the big black bus, on a collision course with a very nice little trophy we have had our eye on for a year or 3.