Today has been a day of celebration for New Zealand, our team the All Blacks having won the Rugby World Cup last night in a nail-biting close final. I’m very glad they’ve won, though not for the reasons most might think.
For the most part, sport bores me, as it does most aspies, but rugby is about the only game that can hold my interest for even a little while. But then rugby is more than ‘just a game’ in New Zealand, it’s practically a religion. I’d be willing to bet more people play and/or watch games than go to church on Sundays. It’s a huge part of our identity, along with the haka that goes with it, and we’re unarguably the world’s best, but haven’t been able to win the ultimate trophy since the first tournament in 1987, twenty-four aching years ago. With heaps of heartbreaks and disappointments along the way, this win has been a long time coming, but that’s not really why I’m glad.
Our boys have fought a hard fight to win, all through the stages of the tournament, and especially in the last part of last night’s game – the French, only one slim point behind, threw everything they had at the ABs in the last nerve-wracking half-hour, when it would only have taken one try, one well-aimed penalty kick or drop goal, for them to win. Our team held firm, and the win is a well-deserved one, that the country and the team can be proud of. But that’s not why I’m glad either.
We’ve shown the world how a football tournament should be held - with a seven-week long festival of rugby, and (mostly) it’s been well run. The whole country has really gotten into the spirit of things, with flags and signs of support everywhere. Small towns up and down the country ‘adopted’ foreign teams to support. Visitors and foreign teams have frequently commented on how ‘friendly’ and welcoming New Zealanders have been to them. And I truly believe most of the country has been behind ‘our boys’, hanging out for that long-awaited victory. I’ve never seen anything like it. Even this sports-phobic old aspie has been caught up in the excitement at times. I’ve finally begun to understand how sport can (at least sometimes) be a Good Thing. (Wow, never thought I’d say THAT!)
I’ve also seen on TV how, in the stands or the streets, supporters of opposing teams stood side by side, or gave each other a good-natured ‘ribbing’. But no violence, apart from a few flags ripped off cars early on. Compare this, for example, with many European football (soccer) matches where supporters of opposing teams have to be forcibly kept apart not only during the game but before and after as well – even to the extent of having them enter and leave through different gates. Nothing like that here. But none of this is why I’m glad either.
I’m glad we won because we need the boost to our national morale. New Zealand has had a hard time lately. Last year, Canterbury was hit by a huge earthquake, then there was the Pike River mining disaster in which 29 men lost their lives, and then we had another Canterbury earthquake in February which saw 181 people killed, and the guts torn out of Christchurch, our second biggest city. More recently, there’s been the Rena oil spill disaster – a story not over yet – and of course in the background have been economic stresses similar to that which many other countries are suffering. We’ve been kicked and kicked hard, people are struggling, people are down, people are deeply suffering. Some have been wondering, how much more can we take? We all needed this win to boost our spirits and our pride in ourselves as New Zealanders, to prove to ourselves we can overcome diversity and come out on top, that we can climb back out of this hole and stand proud again.
Did I say I was glad we’ve won? Actually, I’m bloody ecstatic!!! Yee-HAH!!!