Last lap in Wellington


 

It is 11am, the morning after the night before, and Wellington is sunny, warm and well removed from the howling wind and rain of yesterday. Typical. This evening we’ll make our way back to the Cake Tin for the Wallabies and the Boks and then fly out at some godforsaken hour tomorrow morning on the long trek home, bracing ourselves for another interface with Etihad.

And what will happen tonight? Why the Aussies will win, of course. Already in this tournament we have seen the French lose twice, and make it to the semi-final, while  Ireland and England lose once and go home. Incidentally they fly out in the morning as well, though something tells me they won’t be spending their last night here going to a rugby match. 

Australia meanwhile have lost once already, and by the time they had added Drew Mitchell to their injury list when he pulled up, hamstrung, in the rain and cold of Nelson against Russia, they had taken on a haunted look. They will beat the Boks and go on to play the All Blacks in the southern hemisphere semi-final.

An Aussie mate of mine staying in this crummy hotel – in fairness the fairly fresh NZ$347 a night they are charging during the week didn’t double for match day, unlike Dunedin– rationalises it as follows:

 “The Wallabies know the Boks so well that they know what to expect, and they have a history of success against them – but their lot look at Quade Cooper and never know what’s coming next. They don’t like that.”

So I’ll be lumping the children’s allowance on men in gold, for the deeply scientific reason that there is a developing theme in this tournament: dismal pool form doesn’t mean automatic drowning.

 The analysis of Ireland’s exit here has already settled on the convenient notion that we played our ‘big game’ against the Aussies three weeks ago. And that we couldn’t get close to the same level against Wales last night.

 I was on red alert for signs of exhaustion after the win in Auckland, and instead found only a group who were high on the energy of winning. The fixtures fell perfectly: Declan Kidney could rest most of the frontliners against Russia the next week, thus giving game time to the bag holders. The only squad member on this trip who didn’t get to play was replacement hooker Damien Varley, who flew out from home. In terms of squad morale that was critical.

Then Ireland were so clinical and direct in dismantling Italy that you could only infer that they had found the pitch of this tournament. A touring team that’s winning takes on a momentum all of its own, and coming to Wellington that’s what Ireland had.

 The night before the game I was invited to the annual dinner of the Marist St Pat’s club here in Wellington. Normally club dinners wouldn’t be your first choice of night out, but there is a strong connection between Clontarf and MSP and I was delighted to go. It was a great night, with a stack of good people who knew their rugby. And it was an honour to meet Brendan Reidy, who played in two World Cups for Samoa, and looks like he could still do a lot of damage if so inclined.

Brendan reckoned Ireland would be up to the task the next day for he saw in them signs of a team that was on a roll, and knew it. In this week’s Sunday Indo I’ve gone into why that role came to a halt. And, next Sunday, I’ll put some more perspective on the whole experience. In the meantime it would be nice if the Wallabies could provide the price of a big fat sleeping tablet for the long trek home.

 

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About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
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