This nation is gripped by the throat in the build-up to Sunday’s Rugby World Cup final.
From rugby crazy men and boys to girls in shops and grandmothers around the country, everyone has just one question on their lips. ‘Can they do it’?
‘They’ is the All Blacks and ‘doing it’ means winning the World Cup final against France at Eden Park on Sunday night NZ time. The nation’s nerves seem shredded already so what on earth they’ll be like come 9 o’clock Sunday evening when the final kicks off, heavens knows.
New Zealand hasn’t won this trophy since 1987 and it’s like the whole country needs a fix to get well. It really is amazing. You see cars driving around the streets festooned in All Blacks flags and the shops are full of posters and jerseys, with signs saying ‘Come on the All Blacks’.
For us media guys working out here, it means a never ending series of articles to write. Apart perhaps from the man who installed the drainage and/or sewage systems at Eden Park, I doubt there isn’t anyone even remotely associated with the venue or the two teams who has not yet been interviewed about the final, asked to give his views.
Yesterday, dodging the huge showers which soaked Auckland virtually all day, I went into the city to interview the South African referee Craig Joubert who will handle the final. What a guy he turned out to be.
Joubert is only 33 but he’s been refereeing since he was 16. He is a hugely impressive guy in a massively understated way. There is no self promotion about this guy, he doesn’t struggle to get his head through the doors. He told me he won’t be lecturing the players because he believes in treating them like men, not children.
‘No-one likes being treated like a child, myself included’ he told me, quietly and calmly. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be a pushover, an easy touch for the players. He will insist on laying down boundaries within which they can operate. But he says he won’t allow them to play outside those parameters.
Sometimes in this business, you meet people and you just think, this guy is a credit to his chosen field. Craig Joubert struck me as precisely that yesterday. It was great to chat with him and hear some honest, open views put forward. He’s very much the future face of top class rugby refereeing.
Thank goodness too that dreadful weather of yesterday had passed over by this morning. I went for a walk up the beach near where I’m staying, just to enjoy a brief interlude, seeing the sun, the water and the approaches to the open sea out to the west. The beach at Takapuna looks out to Rangitoto island, a iconic image for Aucklanders.
It was great therapy before settling down to another day’s work writing articles. With just three days left of the World Cup (I will have been here just over 7 weeks when I fly out next Tuesday) this is a good place to be in more ways than one.