Blogs & Opinion


James Gemmell:

A nation waits

Rugby will help heal New Zealand's wounds, says Gemmell

James Gemmell Posted 7th September 2011 view comments

It's been almost six years since New Zealand won the hosting rights to the Rugby World Cup, and just on four since the last global showpiece in France. Now this tiny, rugby-obsessed nation sits poised for its biggest moment in the international spotlight, and it's as ready as it can be.

Rugby is so much a part of the fabric of New Zealand that daily life well beyond the sidelines has been reshaped. Take the education system; central Auckland schools have been given the opening day of the tournament off to experience the occasion, and further down the track, school terms nationwide have been shifted to align with the finals fortnight. Remarkable, and one for the 'only in New Zealand' file.

Will McCaw lead New Zealand to glory?

Will McCaw lead New Zealand to glory?

And who ever said sport and politics don't mix? The next general election has been announced for November, with the current administration banking on an All Black win on October 23rd for a landslide victory of their own just over a month later.

It is this obsession that will separate 2011 from previous World Cup years, and the passion of the people here is what New Zealand's bid back in 2005 was built upon.

The people's tournament

We can't compete with the infrastructure or transport that the larger international cities provide, and we don't have the population to sustain the truly world class stadiums. There will be hiccups; trains will be late, hotels stretched beyond capacity and bars and restaurants unable to meet demand. The organisers have planned for this, and have pushed their preparations as far as responsibly possible. Anyone involved with London's Olympic preparations will know the importance of legacy and sustainability. New Zealand is, after all, a country of just four million.

It's about the small towns that welcome the minnow teams, about the immigrants from the Pacific Islands, England and South Africa that suddenly explode with national pride, and it's about ordinary rugby-loving New Zealanders who have suffered greatly this year.

James Gemmell
Quotes of the week

Eden Park is the prime example. Renovated to the required 65,000 seat capacity, it is an historic stadium that will fulfil its hosting role adequately. But the towering temporary seating scaffolds at either end of the ground are an eyesore that leaves one reminiscing enviously about the magnificent Stade de France.

No, this tournament won't be remembered for the arenas that host the games, but rather for the people that fill them. It's about the small towns that welcome the minnow teams, about the immigrants from the Pacific Islands, England and South Africa that suddenly explode with national pride, and it's about ordinary rugby-loving New Zealanders who have suffered greatly this year. Those in Christchurch need the Rugby World Cup more than most.

In fact, writing with a detachment that will dissolve the minute the first whistle blows, I can't help but draw comparisons between this World Cup and that held in South Africa 16 years ago.

Francois Pienaar's Springboks carried with them the expectation of a nation and the promise of a brighter future. For very different reasons, Richie McCaw's All Blacks face a similar challenge. They are the embodiment of the nation's obsession with the game, and it's on their shoulders that the immense weight of hope and expectation rests.

The rugby will take care of itself, and from Friday on it will take centre stage. Who knows which teams or individuals we'll be talking about in a week, or six weeks. But rest assured the rugby-mad people of New Zealand will star throughout.

back to top

Other Rugby Union Experts:

Latest Posts in Rugby Union:

Will Greenwood

Building momentum

Will Greenwood wants England to lay down a World Cup 2015 marker on their tour to New Zealand....

Dewi Morris

Heart and soul

Dewi Morris looks at a crucial weekend in the Championship as we head towards the play-offs....

Stuart Barnes

Ups and downs

Stuart Barnes says the drama of relegation must be kept in rugby, but the play-offs need changing....

Latest News RSS feeds

Tipuric a tour doubt

Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric may be a fitness doubt for the Wales tour of South Africa in June.

Young plays down Wade tour bid

Wasps boss Dai Young insists Christian Wade is almost certain to miss England's summer tour to New Zealand.

Ireland post for Nucifora

David Nucifora has been named the Irish Rugby Football Union's new performance director.

Carter inspired by Wilkinson

Dan Carter described how "ultimate professional" Jonny Wilkinson inspired him to climb to the summit of world rugby.

Harlequins v Leicester: Teams

Harlequins host third-placed Leicester Tigers at the Twickenham Stoop in Friday's lone Aviva Premiership clash.

Features

Danny Care opens up about Stuart Lancaster's influence and Harlequins' play-off bid

Danny Care opens up about Stuart Lancaster's influence and Harlequins' play-off bid

Once dubbed the ‘bad boy’ of English rugby, Danny Care’s rise to prominence has been far from a fairy-tale, but the maverick scrum-half has discovered a true sense of patriotism and belonging under the tutelage of Stuart Lancaster.

Watch the Heineken Cup semi-finals live on Sky Sports

Watch the Heineken Cup semi-finals live on Sky Sports

The Heineken Cup has already thrown up some brutal encounters this season, and Sky Sports will be bringing you all the action from the semi-finals as Europe's finest take centre stage.

Good week/Bad week: The winners and losers from the last sporting week

Good week/Bad week: The winners and losers from the last sporting week

It's been another incredible week of sport from Augusta to Anfield via Andalusia, but for every sporting hero there must be a villain.