Tour tales – London (Week 7)

JON CARDINELLI reflects on London lights, dizzy All Blacks shoppers, and scruffy journalists.

Rugby journalists have been caught between two worlds this past week. The journey to the centre of the Springbok camp was particularly dark and depressing following the death of their World Cup dream. By contrast, the scenes around central London were far more colourful and cheerful ahead of the big showdown between the All Blacks and Wallabies.

The London Eye was lit up in green, gold and black in tribute to the two finalists. A new fan park opened on Trafalgar Square for the last week of the tournament. As I took a stroll down Southbank on a surprisingly clear and pleasant evening, I overheard a group of English lads debating the breakdown battle between ‘Pooper’ and Richie McCaw.

It did surprise to hear a South African accent inside an upmarket restaurant on Sloane Square. Before the match at the Olympic Stadium on Friday, a group of us decided to stop in the notoriously posh area for a late lunch. Many of the patrons inside the restaurant were wearing fine suits and expressions of mild disdain. We, of course, were dressed like rugby writers.

There was an awkward moment when our coats and laptop bags were ripped away and deposited in a nearby closet. Our fears were allayed when our waiter arrived. ‘Howzit?’ he said with a grin. ‘Are you okes looking forward to the game today? I really hope the Bokke can pull one back.’

It’s funny how you always seem to run into rugby people on tour, even in big cities like Paris or London. Earlier this week, I finally got round to buying a few trinkets and gifts for people back home. I couldn’t have picked a worse area or time for my chore. Oxford Street, during school holidays, is no place for shopaphobes like myself.

After being carried by the swirling crowd for what felt like 10 minutes, I slammed head first into the backpack of an exceptionally large fellow. I apologised and had time to read the ‘JK’ initials on his backpack before he turned. Jerome Kaino looked just as bewildered. Not far away, Keven Mealamu and Malakai Fekitoa spun round and round in the streets as the crowds charged past relentlessly. Maybe the All Blacks aren’t invincible after all.

The final itself lived up to the hype. The Kapa o Pango challenge preceded the contest while the Ka Mate haka succeeded the presentation of the trophy. The ground was still at capacity in those latter moments, as fans stayed on to enjoy the fireworks as well as the theatrics. It was a game, and a party, to remember.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli