The morning stalled in five-minute increments. Work required me to report from 7 until 3 in the most important day of everybody whose feet stands on New Zealand soil.
In this country, Rugby is a religion. While I may have not realized how the game is deeply embedded in the New Zealand society in the nearly 4 years that I’ve lived here, a recent holiday to Australia slapped that fact to my face.
“Hi, Are you a tourist?”
“Just across the ditch.”
“Ah. Rugby, aye?”
Rugby Fanatic. It is the default assumption for everybody who lands to anywhere from AKL. Anybody from a country with a decent rugby team knows that. While for the longest time, we may not have the best rugby team in the world, no one, and I mean, no one, can ever contest the Kiwi’s dedication to the sport and to the team.
At work, the customary “how’s the weather?” greetings were duly replaced by, “Where are you watching the game tonight?” in the entire season the World Cup was on. Employees ditched wearing uniforms in favor of black shirts with the Silver Fern, New Zealand’s sporting emblem, on it.
So on the day of the final match between New Zealand and France, while I spent half the time waiting for the clock to strike 3, the boyfriend made sure we were geared for the night we’ll witness history.
We wore matching Hallensteins team shirts and Kathmandu raincoats. We got the latter from the free Gift Card that the Kathmandu Team gave us, in support of our travels.
We took the Mission Bay road, initially planning to park there and walk or take the bus to the city, in anticipation of heavy traffic. But luckily for us, we beat the rush hour and managed to snake our way through CBD, finally finding cheap parking behind the inner city apartments near the old railways station.
From there, we walked a few minutes to the Viaduct passing through Waldorf, Britomart and the Viaduct pubs. The side streets were brimming with Kiwis of all ages bearing All Blacks face paints, flags, posters and whatnots.
We headed straight to the Captain Cook Wharf Fanzone because the Party Central at Queens Street has reached capacity already. There were a couple of big screens displayed on the wharf and a row of food and drink stalls just below the cruise ships on the dock.
We were there at least four hours before the game itself and hundreds more were there before us. Naturally, the lines for the snacks bars were looong and accepted only cash transactions (imagine the inconvenience in an EFTPOS-laden NZ. Tsk, tsk).
Bottles of wine and glasses of Heineken littered the fan grounds even before the game commenced. We fed ourselves chips and hot dogs and drowned in beer hoping that our would-be euphoria at the end of the game would somehow dilute the alcohol in our blood and we’d be able to drive home sober and safe.
When the game finally started, the maelstrom ceased, and all that was left was a mob of eyes glued to the screen. With mouths agape and hearts skipping beats, New Zealand froze. I cannot recall how exactly, the void between seeing our boys doing the Haka and Ritchie McCaw receiving the cup trophy, was filled.
I stood corrected. After all, it wasn’t the morning at the start of the day that stalled. It was those 80 minutes after the clock struck 9 at night that balked the normal passage of time, to give way to a victory we’ve all been waiting, wanting and praying for, for a score and a quarter.
Once again, it was 1987. Auckland City. New Zealand Versus France. There was no stopping the victory. The French men knew it then. They know it now.