31 Oct 2015

Kiwis, Aussies light up London gloom

1:52 pm on 31 October 2015

"How to avoid the Rugby World Cup," RNZ jested: "Five coping strategies" for the rugby-weary.

Such advice isn't so helpful now, a day out from the final, but one could have done worse than visiting the host nation itself.

Britain's the birthplace of rugby, but in central London right now, you wouldn't know it. The city seemed to collectively shrug its shoulders when its team failed to even crack the quarter-finals. What would've triggered a month of mourning back home barely featured on the front pages here.

And tomorrow, while New Zealanders and Australians crawl from their beds and fumble for the remote, most Londoners will be obliviously trying on their Halloween kit and toddling off to Trick or Treat.

It's a far cry from the Rugby Fever of 2011, and the lack of fervour's an unfamiliar atmosphere for us Antipodeans.

In the early days of the pool matches I found myself on a fruitless pub crawl, searching for a bar, any bar, showing the All Blacks face off with the Pumas. I stayed home for New Zealand v. Namibia.

Richie McCaw, Twickenham, fans

Richie McCaw arrives. Rugby World Cup Semi Final, South Africa v New Zealand All Blacks, Twickenham Stadium, London, Photo: Photosport

Shortly after the opening ceremony I went to a live recording of the comedy show Mock the Week. The crux of every Cup joke: rugby is a boring sport and nobody cares. Granted, it was the same week as David Cameron and the pig so the panellists were rather preoccupied.

Against the grey London apathy, even a glimmer of Trans-Tasman passion stands out.

Many New Zealanders and Australians will gather at the Clapham Grand - "London's Premier Nightclub and Live Music Venue" - to watch the final on a massive screen.

Previous matches have been standing room only. As you'd expect, the final is completely sold out.

I've seen some people offering to buy their way in for £40 or £50 (NZD $90-113). But that pales in comparison to the cost of a seat at Twickenham. Last glance at viagogo.co.uk had the cheapest tickets at about £350 (NZD$793). StubHub.co.uk has them at about £500 (NZD$1134).

Argentina v Australia - Fans gather by the statue outside Twickenham

Argentina v Australia - Fans gather by the statue outside Twickenham Photo: Photosport

Some of those tickets are cheaper than face value, as the odd bitter Brit tries to offload tickets he or she had acquired in the hopes of seeing England in the finals.

Certainly the packed stadiums tell a different story from my account of London ennui. The TV audience too is phenomenal.

Almost 10 million people in the UK watched the opening match. Even more watched England lose first to Wales and then again to Australia. It seems rugby has a stronger foothold further afield, certainly in the West Country, in Cornwall and Bath.

Still, £500 can get you a week away, and at the risk of sounding a killjoy, I'd rather a trip to France.

Don't confuse my thrift for disinterest. In fact, the capital's collective indifference has sparked in me an enthusiasm for rugby I didn't know existed. Previously unmoved by the sport, I've found myself bound by patriotic duty to follow the game in earnest.

My British colleagues' ignorance has allowed me to cultivate a credibility I by no means deserve. Tossing around vague clichés like, "it's the All Blacks to lose" and "the Wallabies look dangerous though" and "Scotland just didn't have it in them" is more effective than you might think.

Unfortunately, my (Scottish) boss has decreed that I shall work on Saturday, so as it so happens I will miss watching the final live. Instead, I'll be in full media black-out, which is more difficult than you'd think, given I work for a media organisation.

Blinkers on and phone off, come Saturday, it will be me trying to avoid the Rugby World Cup at perhaps the one time in London it will be near impossible to do so.

Australia's head coach Michael Cheika attends a press conference in Teddington, west London, on October 26, 2015.

Australia's head coach Michael Cheika attends a press conference in Teddington, west London, on October 26, 2015. Photo: AFP

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