Raglan - Auckland
This hangover should be post-match, not pre-match. Shocking. Shocking.
It requires some skills to get myself up, packed and from Raglan to Hamilton and then from that dreary hole to Auckland.
I get back into Auckland at 3 and meet up with George & Michael (I reckon they’re making their name combination up as a kind of comedy prop) down by the wharf. I met these two English lads in Raglan and I have to say they are both very good value. They have been invited to Eden Park Rugby Club for pre-match booze and the Kiwi lads who’ve invited them are happy for me to tag along too. This is a bit of an honour for us in many ways. You don’t really expect to get asked along to a pre-match do like this, especially not one in such an auspicious location prior to a rugby world cup quarter final. The only price we have to pay is having a mob of Kiwis singing rugby songs on the way up on the bus, including some good banter about the English. The three of us are seriously outnumbered but Michael pulls out the one song that is guaranteed to shut up the singing Kiwi opposition:
God Save Your Gracious Queen, Long Live Your Noble Queen…
It works every single time without fail in this part of the former empire.
Watching Wales v Ireland in Eden Rugby Club, I’d say there are only three of us out of fifty backing Wales. As I suspected though, the Welsh are simply too good for an experienced but past-their-prime Irish team. I am struggling. Despite shoving as many carbs, chocolate, Red Bull and pints down my gullet as I can, I am still in absolute bits from last night. This must be how Mike Tindall and half of the England team feel on the day of a match.
Once inside Eden Park, it is a bit of a shock just how many French are here. OK, they are not in such good song as the Argies have been this tournament, but it does come as a big surprise to suddenly find so many thousands of them here in Auckland, particularly as I’ve seen very few of them during my time in NZ.
England start as well as they have all tournament. But it is only a good five minutes and suddenly France start to punish those England giveaway penalties they have been guilty of in every single match. When France go 16-0 up, England are in big, big trouble. The scary thing is, Tuilagi (who went to the same school as me) looks like the only one who’s turned up for us in the first half, and he’s not exactly world class. Flood’s awful attempted drop kick, which would be ridiculed if you’d done it at school aged 14, sums it up, as does Wilkinson’s poor, misthrown pass to the wing just as England threaten a try moments before the break . Just not good enough.
As was the case with Scotland, England only start turning it on and threatening when their backs are against the wall. At 16-7 England have a penalty but play instead for the corner. It’s madness. Had we put that one away we’d need a converted try and we’d lead. Instead we still need nine. Wilkinson went off a few moments before the chance of kicking that penalty was passed on. I suspect that will be the final time he puts on an England jersey.
England threaten to pull it back and score a second try through Cueto. But handling errors at vital moments cost England dear. With time running out, France have the ball down the England end. A poor England are crashing out in the quarter finals. And, frankly, that is exactly what we deserve.
I let the crowd disperse and am one of the last few hundred to leave the stadium. I always do this when England are eliminated from a tournament early. In fact, it is a common experience for me watching the England football team compete away from home in tournaments: Sweden ‘92, France ’98, Belgium 2000, Japan 2002, Portugal 2004, Germany 2006, South Africa 2010, and now New Zealand 2011. It’s shite being English.
Not being able to face a drop more alcohol, and keen to leave the scene of the crime, I leave George-Michael and the Kiwis to it and catch the train back to central Auckland.
The young, pretty Auckland girls are doing their usual parade up and down Queen Street in their short dresses and bare feet; drunk and more than a little raucous as ever as they scream and giggle their way along the pavement trying to draw attention to themselves. This is no ordinary Saturday night out in Auckland though, and they’ve got tough competition for everybody’s attention from the cosmopolitan rugby circus that’s in town. A group of fifty Argies, who are going bonkers dancing and singing with a giant Argentine flag and their familiar Rugby/Football chant, are drawing a large crowd down by the railway station.
Auckland is fully booked out for the weekend. There isn’t a spare hostel bed in sight. This could have been a shocker for me, but George-Michael have fortunately come to my rescue and saved me from a night of trawling the pubs, club, streets and hanging around Burger King at 6am with the tramps, by kindly offering to let me sleep in the back of their van. They booked up dorm beds for this weekend months ago, so I’ve got the van all to myself.
And so, instead of partying all night celebrating England’s place in the semi-finals, it is elimination and a sleeping bag in the back of a van in an Auckland underground car park. A fitting way for my world cup with England to end me thinks.