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Aisle be Back: The Rugby World Cup begins

  • By Kevin McCarthy 

You can’t go anywhere right now without someone talking about who’s going to win the World Cup. Ask the question and get five or more different answers.

Important question of course, but not one to focus on. After all, there are 24 teams. So, what is that – four per cent of the participants will achieve their end goal. 96 per cent will fall short, fail. Doesn’t seem much of a deal worth buying into.

But world cups aren’t about the winners until the last match. Before that, the whole key to them is to enjoy what goes on around it all.

I’ve been to two world cups – 2007, France and the UK, and 2011, at home of course.

In 2007, the memories aren’t that much of the rugby. It’s waiting for the All Blacks bus to arrive at Murrayfield and hearing in the throng Scandinavian accents. Turns out they are All Blacks super fans – from Sweden. The day before, it’d been watching one of the Pacific nations giving a top nation an almighty scare. Those watching were English and US fans. The English were fixated on their beers, and the Americans on the match.

Days later in a teeming Cardiff, at halftime in the England-Wallabies quarter, an Australian fan thanks me for my running commentary on his team being dismantled.

A few hours later, outside the Millenium stadium, at around 10, it’s impossible not to grin as a dozen French fans in bunny rabbit onesies do a conga line. You congratulate and wish them to go all the way. While knowing full well that they won’t.

In 2011, it’s taking an intercity bus from Wellington to Auckland – and realising it really was being followed by the whole country, with towns festooned with New Zealand flags. There’s the lunacy of Argentine fans at the Cake Tin, stripping topless as the rain deluges.  Days later, it’s watching in sunshine both the Australians driving South Africa to despair, and Tonga toppling the French. And the Nek Minnit drama of the All Blacks journey to the final.

Of course, it all comes down to the rugby in those last excruciating minutes at Eden Park. No-one will remember the French fans that night but imagine what a World Cup they’d just experienced.

Because while world cups are terribly serious business, that’s not what the fan experience is and should be. And they’ll be fans from 24 countries, all on their particular journeys.

So don’t get too hung up on who might win.  That’ll sort itself out. Almost impossibly, the All Blacks are no longer the favourites, and that should be the silver lining of three years of patchy, occasionally alarming, performance.

Freed of that burden, it’s never been a better world cup to enjoy the side stories. Have a second or third favourite team. If you are lucky enough to be in France, there’ll be no better rugby experience in your life.

Go the All Blacks, but go everybody else. It’s a big world after all.


This weekend’s opening set of matches:













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