So, it’s the morning after the night before and Wellington airport is full of bleary eyed people dressed mainly in red. Smiles are everywhere, despite the obvious hangovers. My shoes are still slightly squishy from last night and my coat is damp; that rain was torrential most of the time, and it was a long walk back to where we had parked the car. Watching the replays on tv, I’ve no idea how the players coped so well with the monsoon conditions.
The arguments started even before we left the stadium; we nearly managed to lose against 14 men, Billy V was lucky to get yellow not red, the replacement 9 for the ABs got seriously up the referee’s nose with his moans and complaints and his altercation with Sinckler after the final whistle shouldn’t have happened. As we left the stadium last night the AB fans behind us shook everyone’s hand and wished us well for the final game – and then proceeded to explain why it might be a bit different up in Auckland!
I don’t think anyone is thinking that the 3rd Test will be anything but a battle; physical, mental, down to the wire, nail chewingly tense and probably chaotic! Coming out here the plan was we would hammer them in the scrums – not happened. They would respond with fast, free flowing rugby – not happened yet! They were advertising tickets for the Auckland test on the big screen last night – I’m betting that there won’t be any left anytime soon. Everyone wants to be there.
But the ‘Wet & Windy Welly’ Test wasn’t all we managed to do yesterday. Earlier in the week we had met with representatives of many of the rugby clubs in Wellington at a Lions event linking clubs here to those back home. They wanted to discuss how clubs can keep their young players on board and not lose them to other sports as they leave their teens and twenties. Two players from North Rugby Club were on our table; Patsy and Tepora, and they play in the top ladies league, just below International level. They invited us to a Cup match at their club in Poirura on Saturday morning. The Lions have nicked their club as a training base for the last week, so it was Pitch 3, up, in the hills, rather than the well groomed pitches down at the main club for this encounter with Old Boys – and yes, they were all girls! This was at Porirua Stadium, the late Jerry Collins’ club, which was renamed in his honour in 2016, and what a gorgeous place it is, looking out over the coast and with fantastic facilities.
The game itself was exceptionally good, especially considering the conditions; torrential rain had turned it very soft and the wind and showers kept it interesting throughout. The skill level of all the women was quite outstanding, especially the handling. Passes were fired out into space for runners to take, the hits were hard and the kicking from hand was sharp and clever. Good scrummaging too, with the ball being heeled properly to the back row. The basics are obviously worked on from an early age, and it shows. The Norths won the match and the celebrations included one girl who was notching up her 200th start for the club. We met another on the sidelines who has played over 300 games! A cracking way to start a brilliant day.
Now we are off to Christchurch, just for a few days away from rugby, before heading back to Auckland and the showdown. We’ve loved ‘Windy Welly’ – it is beautiful, full of lovely places and great people, and our little house on the bay has been a very special place to stay. I will miss brunch at Chocolate Fish and Scorch-o-Rama, the peace and beauty of Zealandia, and the smug feeling of finally figuring out the one-way system round the city. Just hope we can bring the energy and passion of the ‘sea of red’ from Saturday night up to Auckland and find a way to beat all 15 All Blacks.
(And for those waiting for the spooky Rotherham connection – Mike was 3 seats away, Jerry Collins was the cousin of Mike and Tana Umaga, and the ‘cake tin’ celebrates Tana as one of their own)