The record-breaking 62-13 crushing of the French in Cardiff this morning was a perfect reminder to our rugby nation that the All Blacks are still hot favourites to make it back-to-back and win the world cup with a team which is sometimes considered our most troublesome rival now out of the way. Of course our team will still have to fend off a fit South Africa, and potentially an on-form Wallabies side in the final.
It should be a fairly unanimous conclusion among observant All Blacks fans and rugby viewers the world over that Julian Savea, with his impressive semifinal hat-trick was a crucial component to the success of the team this morning. Three tries in a semifinal, let alone three tries to an individual, is a remarkable achievement. His ease in steamrolling the French defense was pure class, and some would say reminiscent of All Black great and fellow Hurricane Jonah Lomu, who’s 1995 try against England will live in the memories of fans forever.
Whilst Savea has been acknowledged as a stand-out player by the New Zealand public for some time now, it is Wellington Lions fans who can boast that they saw it all coming. Savea debuted for the Wellington Lions in the 2010 pre-season of the ITM Cup, scoring the winning try against fierce rivals and natural top-of-the-table dwellers Canterbury. It was here that the first commentator sited Savea as “the next Jonah Lomu”.
But ITM Cup crowds have, for the last half-decade, been notably dropping in numbers with only the very occasional game boasting a full-house attendance. In fact, it could be argued the ITM Cup crowds were never there with the ITM Cup only becoming so in 2010, with the cancellation of the Air New Zealand Cup in 2009.
It is still certainly true of New Zealand rugby that rural crowds are more likely to get out and cheer on the home side, whilst Auckland and Wellington crowds stay at home in the warmth of the living room and in front of the beam of their 40-inch plasmas.
Price is certainly an issue and indeed a deterrent for some fans, but is still, all the same, the poorer more rural areas which show up in greater forces to support their team. Indeed, just from observation as a occasional Wellington Lions and Hurricanes match attendee, I’d say the trains from the poorer areas of town (the Hutt, Porirua) are running hot with the more affluent Thorndon and Kelburn fans, who reside just a stone’s throw from the stadium sit at home.
You never really stop supporting your home region. I’ve lived in Wellington for the past fourteen years and still bring out my amber and black Taranaki jersey on game day. It was the most heartwarming sight to see a packed-out Yarrow Stadium in last year’s intense and totally memorable premiership final against an equally fit Tasman machine. 30,000 fans in one park, with their team, in a town of 50,000. There’s simply nothing better.
That is the spirit provincial rugby should be willing to seek again. New Zealand can very well call itself a rugby nation, but we should be rugby nation which supports our teams at every level. The talent on the fields of our ITM Cup premiership and championship fixtures is, from a global view, second to absolutely no one. Another Jonah Lomu or John Kirwan is probably on the field right now, and it doesn’t seem right that we should only begin to notice these players when and if they put on the black jersey.