Joe Rokocoko hangs his head after France beat the All Blacks in Cardiff in 2007 – one of the worst nights of Duncan Garner’s life.
OPINION: So rugby fans – had a slightly queasy feeling all week ahead of Sunday’s quarterfinal with our World Cup nemesis France?
I certainly have, given I was there in Cardiff in 2007 to witness the French knocking us out of the tournament the entire rugby world had assumed we’d win easily.
I don’t write this to dredge up horrific memories, just to remind everyone that at a World Cup the unthinkable can happen – and pride comes before a massive fall.
I started the day of that 2007 quarterfinal in Paris, part of a team of political reporters accompanying then prime minister Helen Clark on a visit to Europe.
I admit I woke feeling a bit dusty after a night out with John Kirwan, who was superb company and was treated like a rugby god in Paris. Truth be told that night’s a bit of a blur, and in a hungover state I boarded a train to London.
Like me, the other All Blacks supporters were predicting a massacre scoreline that day. Conversation centred on who we expected to play in the semifinal and final.
The very colourful French supporters on board were blowing whistles and trumpets and singing up a storm.
They cheerfully admitted they were expecting to lose and were hellbent on enjoying themselves regardless.
I vividly remember watching them and thinking they wouldn’t be so jovial after the game.
By the time we got to Cardiff I’d recovered sufficiently to enjoy a few pre-game beers in a pub with a sawdust floor.
No-one was talking about the All Blacks losing, it was all about how much we would win by.
We were all so cocky.
As we entered Millennium Stadium I was gobsmacked at how big it was – a true cauldron.
I suddenly felt nervous and wasn’t sure why. But by halftime the All Blacks were in control and any nerves were long gone.
The second half went so quickly. Imagine what it was like for the All Blacks.
Yes, we had some tough decisions (including a totally forward pass) go against us, but that happens.
The truth is, the All Blacks had prepared poorly and played badly. Suddenly it looked like we had no idea.
Our best players were off the field. Others were playing out of position. A sense of doom and gloom descended.
The French had momentum and were controlling the game.
In either a fit of rugby snobbery, or a fog of uncertainty, we decided a drop goal was beneath us.
Then it was over.
We had lost 20-18. The French fans sitting near me hugged each other so hard they fell over in the aisle.
I was suddenly surrounded by Aussie and English supporters who delighted in telling me our team was arrogant and deserved to lose.
We Kiwis copped plenty more abuse as we trudged out of the stadium.
Walking back to the town centre, people were partying in the streets. None of them were wearing black.
Sitting deflated in a pub my sweat was cold and the beer was warm.
I lost my mate in some nightclub and made my way back to the hotel. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
Daylight brought no relief.
Dejected Kiwis, still somewhat stunned, were shaking their heads as they checked out of the hotel. Our great rugby sojourn was in tatters.
Even crueler, thousands of All Blacks fans’ tour parties were just arriving in Europe as the All Blacks were heading to the departure gate.
The truth is the All Blacks were arrogant that night in Cardiff, as former coach Sir Graham Henry has since conceded.
We showed the French no respect and benched stars such as Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The French sniffed a chance and grabbed it with both hands.
Today’s All Blacks aren’t that arrogant. We are in a better position now to win on Sunday than we were in 2007.
The ghosts of the past now guide us. If we lose, our greatest All Blacks like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will have played their last games for the national team.
Something tells me they’re not ready to give up that easily.
Not yet. Not this weekend.
Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Right?
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