Sport Rugby

Friday 15 December 2017

Kate Rowan: The night Lady Gaga turned down a ticket to see ireland get a trouncing at the hands of the All Blacks

NEW ZEALAND winger Zac Guildford. Photo: Reuters
NEW ZEALAND winger Zac Guildford. Photo: Reuters

THERE were two events this past weekend in Auckland that kept the restaurants, bars and hotels buzzing. One obviously was the All Black’s first game of Test rugby since the World Cup in which they trounced Ireland in Eden Park.

The other occasion was Lady Gaga’s presence in the City of Sails. However, the victorious team were not as lucky when it came to winning her over as it was reported and confirmed by the NZRU that she had declined an invitation from the current World Champions.

Perhaps, the reason the eccentric songstress turned down the All Blacks was due to the injury she picked up onstage. Actually, an injury more common to rugby than to pop music: concussion. The New Yorker was performing Judas in Auckland’s Vector Arena when a backing dancer accidently dropped a metal pole on her head.

The show did go on, never the less, as Lady Gaga performed sixteen more songs. However, her team did confirm she had sustained a concussion and was worse for the ware following the incident.

Since the superstar had picked up something of rugby injury, let’s borrow some of her hit songs to analyse some this weekend’s events in the rugby stratosphere.

The big stories to hit the headlines here in New Zealand and at home would include Julian Savea’s show stopping debut and Ireland’s potential prop injury crisis. However, there were also some intriguing subplots that unfolded on Saturday night.

Just Dance – The power of the Haka at home

Watching the end of New Zealand’s captain’s run on Friday afternoon, I was talking to some members of a Kiwi camera crew who were getting ready to shoot a pitch side interview with Richie McCaw.

I was keen to discover how the talismanic captain is perceived in his home country since steering the All Blacks to their first World Cup in 24 years, more or less on one leg in the latter stages of the tournament.

The answer I received was not quite what I was expecting; “Have you ever seen Richie in the flesh when he is really worked up just before or after a game? Well, the way his hair sticks up and how is eyes go, he reminds me of someone turning into werewolf!” replied a cameraman half in jest.

As bizarre as this comparison may seem, it came back to me just before the Haka began in Eden Park. McCaw looked as though he was in a trance and there was something otherworldly about the look in his eyes and how is cheeks puffed. He had transformed from the polite, twinkly eyed charismatic captain of press conferences into a much more fierce some battle ready creature.

The Haka itself, all possible werewolves aside, is an experience to savour on home soil. Before Saturday I had only ever witnessed it in Dublin, where it is really well received but whistles and cheers tend to accompany it. However, in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), it is greeted with revered silence.

This adds to the spiritual nature of the world famous war dance. In Maori culture, the Haka is used to awaken the fighting spirit of the warrior. This accompanied with the rapt stillness of the majority of the Eden Park faithful and the commitment of the players to the ritual shows you how rugby is much more than a game to New Zealanders and is something deeply ingrained in their psyche.

The national anthem “God Defend New Zealand” does not have the same global reputation as the Haka but should be of interest to Irish ears as Thomas Bracken, hailing from County Monaghan who emigrated to Otago on the South Island, wrote the lyrics originally as a poem.

“God Defend New Zealand” was first published in a newspaper competition to find music written by a member of the public to create a national song. The winning tune was written by John Joseph Woods, the son of Irish emigrants. So, in a way without even knowing it New Zealand’s Irish heritage is also celebrated before the commencement of matches.

“Ireland’s Call” may often be at the centre of heated debate at home but it was very well received here with one particular television pundit finding it “rousing” and felt the use of “shoulder to shoulder” really epitomised the true meaning of rugby.

You and I - The two on form full backs in the world recognise each other

The scenes on the pitch after Ireland’s defeat were in stark contrast to those after Ireland’s Wallaby conquering exploits on the same hallowed turf nine months ago, with Irish heads bowed in dejection.

One notable exchange was a few words swapped, lingering longer than the usual post match handshakes between opposing fullbacks Rob Kearney and Israel Dagg.

It was a striking image to see the best fullback in the northern hemisphere clap his southern hemisphere counterpart on the back.

I was curious about this encounter, particularly from a New Zealand perspective so it came as one of the more pleasant moments on a bitterly disappointing evening to hear Dagg explain “You know Rob is a world class fullback, someone I have looked up to for a few years now, I have watched him a lot he has inspired me, he really has been awesome and I just wanted to tell him that he is world class.”

The 24 year old continued, “so, I told him I thought he was world class and he told me he thought I was world class!” he remarked with a smile continuing “so, we decided to swap jerseys when we went back inside in a way of sort of recognising each other. For me it was a really nice thing to do.”

Paparazzi -The New Zealand media’s somewhat one-eyed view of proceedings

This tour of New Zealand is down in the pecking order of sporting headlines back home due the presence of Trap’s Army at Euro 2012, the GAA season getting into full swing and the Olympics on the horizon.

While here on the other side of the world, all the talk is of the oval ball and this series has been top of the sports headlines on the news each evening for the past week.

Press conferences involving Irish rugby teams, both the national and provincial sides tend to focus on a pretty even balance of self-reflection and then analysis of the opposition.

However, the New Zealand media only seem to really have eyes for their boys in black. I can understand it somewhat in the aftermath of such a convincing win but it was the same in the lead up to the match.

A good example of this was a group interview with Dan Carter last week. It lasted for the best part of ten minutes. He was asked a wide variety questions on everything from his groin injury to working with the new caps but not a whisper of the Irish until he was asked for his thoughts on Jonathan Sexton – by an Irish journalist!

Later that day Sexton was interviewed in a similar fashion and the second question was about Carter! Then more questions followed with a Kiwi flavour, concerning the influence on the out half’s career from Joe Schmidt, a New Zealander. Sexton praised Schmidt effusively and this was very graciously accepted and debated by Kiwis I spoke to.

Obviously, being in New Zealand you are going to expect the local journalists to be biased towards their team but it is odd how much of the Irish interviews are filled with players analysing their All Black opposite numbers and how very little mention the Irish get in questions to New Zealand players.

This takes some getting used to and you could criticize the Kiwi media for being somewhat one-eyed but I suppose you have to remember that as Irish we can understand what it is like to be an island nation, with a bigger brasher nearest neighbour and this can lead to a hell of a lot of inward focus.

However, some of the phrases used in the media in the wake of Ireland’s loss were biased hyperbole at its worst (or best depending on your point of view), for example headlines such as “Sham-rocked!” or “Irish future looks All Black”. Then there was the use of “Celtic gore” to describe the pain inflicted on the Irish.

Looking ahead – Could Ireland cling to “the edge of glory?”

Both sets of media would have it that the remainder of this tour looks very ominous for the Irish but sometimes as well as being realistic you just have to hope.

I will echo the sentiment expressed by Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and the sole Irish try scorer Fergus McFadden who both talked about the big positive of this being a three test series is that there are two more tests to look ahead to and to improve in.

Here is hoping the duo are right in their assessment of the coming fortnight and that Ireland will come much closer to “the edge of glory” in Christchurch or Hamilton than that unpleasant sounding “Celtic gore”!

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