Saturday, October 1 (Day 30)
I feel like I have been sleeping in a night club. I went to bed at 3, but my dorm is right next to a club and the room was violently vibrating from next door’s speakers banging out loud music until it closed. I think the melodic drums and synth helped me drift off to sleep.
I catch up with stuff on my laptop and nip away to the toilet for 2 minutes. When I get back I spot a very shabby looking homeless bloke, who has wandered in off the street and sneaked upstairs, about to steal my computer. You really can’t let your guard down with your valuables and cash when you are travelling or you are bound to get punished. Case in point, the hostel in Cordoba, Argentina where I had the best part of 200 quid stolen from my locker the only time I left my valuables in a questionable locale.
I am conscious of peaking too early with the whole day to drink and an 8.30 KO, so I let my Scottish friends get on with it and meet them after three. Face painted up, two English and a dozen Scots set off on the 5km ‘fan walk’ to Eden Park, none of us, truth be known, anywhere near drunk.
We stop off at three pubs with the Scots in good form and equally good song. They genuinely believe they might beat England, but a nine-point margin is going to be a big ask from a team that has so underperformed in this tournament thus far.
It’s as miserable, grey and downtrodden as a miserable, grey and downtrodden English or Scottish town in this part of Auckland. Only the residents add colour with a high percentage hailing from Tonga, who are in the process of beating France as we leave our last pub, the Dog’s bollix, en route to the stadium. Red Bull & Vodkas have been called in across the crew to get us all to the right level.
The weather also makes this feel like an all British affair with rain lashing down and a gale beginning to blow. Eden Park is almost entirely open air, which means that 90 per cent of us are rewarded with an absolute soaking just prior to kick off. The wind, rain, national anthems and a day of drinking send a pre-match tribal roar across the four stands as this latest battle of the Auld Enemy gets under way.
England look every bit as one-dimensional, lacking in ideas, (hungover?), and predictable as they did in their first two matches. Scotland don’t look much better but are at least playing with rather more passion.
If this were a football encounter between the two of us, great swathes of England and Scotland would face each other from behind opposite sides of the stadium. You wouldn’t be able to hear yourself with the singing. My mind fleets back to when I went to the European Championships play-offs at Hampden Park and Wembley some years ago. At Hampden, the thousands of us congregated behind one of the goals out-sang Scotland for almost the entire match and drowned out their national anthem. They did the same to us at Wembley a few days later. Here though, the two sets of rival fans are mixed up all over the stadium and aside from the occasional roar of ‘Scot-land, Scot-land’ and a pathetic effort to start off ‘Sweet Chariot’, the singing and chants are disappointingly non-existent.
Johnnie Wilkinson is missing everything in front of the sticks, which is worrying for England as kicking penalties is about all we have to offer. We are also giving away plenty of penalties and the Scots are punishing us. When Scotland take a 12-3 lead, we know we are in trouble. They have the nine-point deficit they need and if it stays this way, England will likely finish third in the group and face elimination. But, the moment Scotland take that nine-point lead, England step their game up a couple of gears.
12-6…12-9, with only minutes left, and with England in the ascendancy, the best Scotland look likely to manage is a victory over us, but no bonus point… and elimination. And then, with the clock ticking down, Ashton breaks away down our right wing and settles it with a try with only a couple of minutes on the clock. Wilkinson’s replacement, Flood, puts the conversion over and England, seemingly out of the blue, are out of jail and have won it 16-12.
Trudging back to the Dog’s Bollix to meet my Scottish mates I feel a mixture of relief, embarrassment and a little sorry for the Scots. We didn’t deserve to win that but, then again, the Scots only have themselves to blame for losing to Argentina.
The party goes on for several hours at our chosen rendezvous but by 2am I feel the desire to escape the wake and get back into the centre of Auckland. England have made it to the quarter finals but I feel strangely deflated by it all.
Australia 68-22 Russia
England 16-12 Scotland
France 14-19 Tonga