There's a cracking atmosphere in Dunedin ahead of the England v Argentina clash, with thousands of fans travelling to New Zealand from both countries. Truthfully, the Argentines win the singing in the main square, the Octagon, where 'shall we sing a song for you?' gets lost in translation with the England fans who don't have a clue what the opposition fans are singing. If this were football and not rugby, the point at which a couple of dozen Puma fans jump up and down a metre away from a pub full of English, would be the point of no return with both sets of fans no doubt kicking off. But this is rugby, and despite some historical animosity between the two nations, the goading remains good spirited.
Strolling around the Octagon, taking the sights in, I suddenly bump into Argentine Alex, who I met on my first morning in New Zealand, shortly after arriving from South Korea, when we booked into the same airport motel in Auckland. Alex is a top lad and we had actually been in contact by email a couple of days earlier, planning to meet up just ahead of the match, but after downing half a bottle of Merlot I'd consequently forgotten all about ringing him.
It is a 25-minute stroll down to the Dunedin stadium, which is rated as one of the world's best rugby stadiums. It is a gorgeous stadium, which is covered to protect the 30,000 present from the worst of the cold, with temperatures down to around 4 degrees.
Argentina outclass England in the early exchanges and take a 6-3 interval lead, but there is little rugby being played by either side. It is all about penalty kicks and both sides are missing virtually everything. Argentina only make 3 out of 9 kicks count, while the normally reliable Johnny Wilkinson is woefully off target for most of the evening and only converts 2 out of 7 kicks himself.
The highlights of the evening are probably a streaker sprinting across the pitch, and the passionate singing of the thousands of Argentines present.
With Argentina going 9-3 up early in the second half and Wilkinson continuing to miss everything in front of the posts, it looks like Argentina might record a famous victory. But Youngs ghosts through for England 13 minutes from time for the game's only try, and despite Argentina almost stealing a try in the final minute, England hold on to take the 5 points.
Back in Dunedin city centre I am feeling ready to call it a night, but the atmosphere is so electric that I can't help taking a wander. Fortunately for me I get chatting to local girls, Meg and Mel, and end up having a top night out in Dunedin with the ladies in question, who take me to several of the best bars in town. There's a new year's eve buzz to the partying, with much of the drinking and celebrating in the streets, and when I do finally tip toe back into my dorm at 4am, I find that half of my room mates are still out.
England come from behind to narrowly beat Argentina 13-9 in Dunedin.
Just sat on a bus on the five-hour journey down to Dunedin from Christchurch, catching up with some writing, ahead of tonight’s opening match between England and Argentina. It is a funny scene really. The bus reminds me of the bus I used to go to school on when I was 12: a ‘Midland Red’, I think they used to be called. While millions of rugby fans back home will be waking up soon with a buzz of excitement that today is the day the world cup begins for England, I find myself accompanied by about 10 england fans, half a dozen Argentines, a couple of farmers, and a weirdo with a baby, on a journey which feels more akin to going off to watch another sheep shearing show.
RWC Daily September 10
Thursday, June 9 2011
Just three months today left until the 2011 Rugby World Cup kicks off in Auckland on September 9, with the match between the hosts and Tonga. England start their campaign the following day on the South Island in Dunedin, against Argentina.