Wednesday 26 July 2017

Kiwis ready to stage lord of the rip-offs

Hugh Farrelly

NEW ZEALANDERS playing rugby in Ireland is a favourite topic of ours and there is a long tradition of Kiwis coming over here to ply their trade in the Irish game - and an equally long tradition of them being slow to the bar.

While loth to indulge in sweeping generalisation or simplistic stereotyping, our regular experience has been of Kiwis quick to enter into rounds and quicker to vanish when it is their turn to get them in (although they always reappeared in time to perform the obligatory haka party piece).

There was one chap who played AIL rugby in Cork in the 1990s who we used to call 'Crime' (as in crime never pays), whose wallet, like Keyser Soze in 'The Usual Suspects', attained a mythical status - it was rumoured to exist but no-one knew what it looked like. 'Crime' was a big, mean unit, so all the disgruntled muttering went on behind his broad back until, the week before his return home, he suddenly produced the holy grail.

We had popped into The Four Winds in Charleville, the usual watering stop on the way back from Limerick, for a few looseners when 'Crime,' out of the blue, opened this storied item and (after the cloud of dust had cleared and people's watches started ticking again) declared his intention to purchase a round.

'Crime' came to mind recently when assessing the spate of overpricing that seems to have consumed New Zealand in advance of this year's World Cup. It has been suggested that it is the country's strong links to Scotland that makes Kiwis so careful with the cash, but, whatever the reason, they seem to be viewing this autumn's influx of rugby tourists with the same type of relish Irish 'lotharios' reserve for English hen parties tottering into Temple Bar.

Some of the accommodation rates defy belief. There have been reports of Kiwis renting out their houses for more than NZ$20,000 (€11,271) a week, with the 'cheaper' option of houses close to Eden Park available at around $1,500 (€845) a night.

One particularly choice advert offered a "modernised, three-bedroom contemporary villa on the doorstep of Eden Park" for NZ$1,500 a night, with the stipulation that the guests have to feed the residents' cat - assuming they have any money left to buy Whiskas.

Taxi men are also planning to cash in, particularly the Wellington ones, as they have been banned from the Westpac Stadium since they represent a "security threat," while restaurant and pub owners are ready to ratchet up the cost of sustenance.

It all adds to the general sour taste in the mouth over the staging of this tournament, especially when you consider what could, and should, have been the alternative.

When the decision was taken back in 2005, it quickly emerged that there had been a Ballinasloe Fair approach to proceedings, with all manner of horse-trading taking place before New Zealand got the nod. South Africa certainly felt they had been stitched up, but the real losers were the IRB, who had the opportunity of making major strides along their stated path of global expansion by awarding the tournament to Japan.

What a boost it would have given to the smaller rugby nations, and the game itself, to have the game's showpiece event held away from the established power base. And logistically, Japan makes New Zealand look like a medieval outpost.

Obsession

Since that 2005 appointment, New Zealand have flopped at another World Cup and the desire to confirm their status as the world's premier rugby power with their first world title since the inaugural 1987 tournament (also staged in New Zealand) has escalated to the point of national obsession.

They will probably do it too. As well as being considerably ahead of the competition, the All Blacks are nigh on impregnable on home soil and it is hard to see any country spoiling their grand plan.

New Zealand is a wonderful country to visit, full of stunning scenery and, ordinarily, accommodating locals. But when it comes to rugby, the New Zealander is a different animal, imbued with an edge of the world arrogance when it comes to the activity that defines them.

Take rugby away and there is little to announce New Zealand on a global basis -- Kiri Te Kanawa and Lord Of The Rings settings don't really cut it -- and the result is a tournament that is being lined up as a triumphalist validation exercise.

However, if the over-pricing and logistical problems are not resolved, it could also be a public relations disaster because, although it may not be a concept thrifty Kiwis are overly familiar, what goes around, comes around.

Irish Independent

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