The sport of rugby has often been credited with helping integrate the New Zealand Maori and Pakeha (white) communities.
From primary school into my high school years I played two sports: cricket and rugby.
I was competent in both and represented my school for many years, and this experience resulted in me being a lifelong fan of both sports.
As I matured I joined a tennis group consisting of a number of expat South Africans for whom South African rugby was a religion. Some of them still support the Springboks, other now follow the Waratahs and Wallabies.
At first many games of tennis had the Springbok versus Wallabies edge. This was the ultimate sporting contest. Forget Graeme Pollock or Barry Richards; the real contest was between the very old foes. Grizzled huge prop forwards trying to roll over our beloved gutsy and fleet-footed Wallabies muttering insults in Afrikaans. Not any more.
I looked up to Tony Miller, Nick Shehadie, Ken Catchpole, David Campese and George Gregan as my rugby fan heroes. I read as many newspaper articles as I could about them and their successes.
But my rugby fandom has slipped alarmingly in the last few years. Looking at the diminishing crowds watching both the Super Rugby teams and the tests, it seems that I am not alone in reacting so negatively to the game.
I remember when the decline started for me. At the time I was a member of ANZ Stadium and never missed a home rugby test.
One year, having trekked to Homebush one Saturday night to see a South Africa versus Australia Test with a pretty good crowd, our expectations were high. A good game was expected, but unfortunately we saw the most uninteresting, boring, mistake-filled exhibition of a Test match. There was no atmosphere, no excitement, no thrills or spills – nothing. Only penalties, lineouts, scrums, scrum resets and more scrums.
I think we won, but no-one cared. I resolved that from then the only rugby I would see was Australia versus New Zealand Bledisloe Cup games – two neighbours scrapping like backyard brothers to win the cup.
I remember the most thrilling game ever where in front of 100,000 people Jonah Lomu ran over Andrew Walker like he was an ant to score the winning try. What an amazing game!
But that was the high point. Since then the contest has become one-sided. New Zealand – Cheika will not call them the All Blacks – have been many points better than the Wallabies and won Test after Test and a World Cup.
There have been two recent games in which New Zealand have been ahead by at least 30 points at half-time. In one of those games I did the unthinkable and left at half-time. I missed a try by Nick Phipps. We still got thrashed.
Last year we won a game. Wow!
This year we again live in hope. Can our heroes drag the Wallabies to some respectability? I really hope so. I’ll be watching the games.