Two weeks travelling around the North Island following the Irish rugby team, in our O’Kiwi On Tour jaunt, has been a lesson in how to enjoy sport.
After the Irish team’s remarkable win over Australia in Auckland – one of the most electric sports crowds I’ve ever been in – the Irish fans had great fun with the Aussie songs and chants. ‘Waltzing O’Driscoll’ rung out everywhere, as did ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, boo hoo hoo.’ One bald little Irish fan approached the Aussie fans with extended arms and with a voice like a concrete mixer said, ‘Give us a hug.’ The Aussies took it all very well.
Canterbury University sports sociologist Camilla Obel says we need to lighten up a bit, but Kiwis seem to be thoroughly enjoying the buzz of this World Cup. Travelling up through the backblocks of the King Country and the Waikato, we came across many people who were just loving the whole atmosphere. The sheer exuberance of the Irish, Welsh, Tongan, French and other fans seems to have sparked us up. Provincial New Zealand has really taken to the event, and the atmosphere down on the Auckland waterfront was superb too.
Rugby has an ability to bring people together. In Ireland, it’s one of the few sports that unites all four provinces. Soccer doesn’t. In 2002 when the soccer World Cup was on, the Republic was at fever pitch supporting their ‘boys in green’. But it was strictly a southern Irish side. Northern Ireland has their own soccer team and were largely indifferent to the southern success.
Rugby in New Zealand has come a long way since 1981. In 2005, several months after Don Brash had stirred the racial pot with his Orewa speech, the All Blacks played the Sprinboks in Dunedin. Led by Tana Umaga, the first All Black captain of Samoan heritage, the All Blacks unveiled their new ‘Kapa o Pango’ haka. The crowd loved it. Where else would a Maori tradition performed by a team of mixed cultures led by a Samoan be wildly applauded by a largely European crowd?
Now we’re into the home stretch of the Rugby World Cup and two of the stand-out nations, Ireland and Wales, are riding the enthusiastic support of their travelling fans. After the Irish win over the Wallabies in Auckland, the Irish fans joked that it would be an Ireland v All Blacks final. Wouldn’t that test O’Kiwi loyalties.