Fading to grey: All Blacks fans face reality after devastating semi-final defeat by England in Rugby World Cup
- New Zealand were pursuing a third consecutive Rugby World Cup triumph
- But they were outplayed by an incredible England team in Yokohama, losing 19-7
- Supporters in Christchurch were gutted but gracious in a rare All Blacks defeat
- The front page of the Herald epitomised how much rugby means in New Zealand
As the handful of England supporters at Christchurch’s Little Fiddle pub joined in the pre-match rendition of God Save the Queen, the locals smiled indulgently. They had heard it all before.
By the end of an evening when, after Yokohama, New Zealand was the second-best place in the world to be English, All Blacks fans’ smiles had been replaced by ashen faces.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Saturday morning’s coverage in the New Zealand press had been respectful of England’s progress to the semi-finals but tinged with condescension. Well played, boys, but here’s where the fun ends.
All Black fans before the World Cup in Yokohama – their excitement would be curtailed quickly
The front page of the New Zealand Herald on Sunday told the story of the country’s despair
Drinkers in the Little Fiddle expected their heroes to ‘Prune the Roses’, as one headline advised. One man performed his own haka during the English anthem, and there was an intake of breath as Eddie Jones’s team responded to the official version by forming a confrontational ‘V’.
Someone muttered: ‘Any team who has ever challenged the haka gets a stuffing.’
When Manu Tuilagi powered over the line after 97 seconds, New Zealanders in the pub dismissed it as a blip. When England’s dominance could only translate into a half-time score of 10-0, optimism was still in the air.
Ardie Savea looked to have restored hope when he went over the whitewash but it wasn’t to be
‘Next try wins it,’ insisted a voice, to sage nods. And when Ardie Savea went over, the natural order seemed restored. ‘Never write off the All Blacks,’ shrieked a small man clutching his umpteenth beer.
But the expected onslaught never arrived, and a quiet horror began to settle over the pub. When the final whistle went, the silence was punctuated only by the few England supporters brave enough to parade their pleasure — though the New Zealanders were gracious in defeat.
The morning after was funereal. The front page of the Herald on Sunday was blacked out, except for the small print. ‘The All Blacks are out of the World Cup,’ it declared. ‘If you want to read more, go to the sports section.’