We were in Narbonne for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“Georgie, it’s CW”.
“CW, bonjour ca va mon ami. J’aime text a vous le pub”.
“George, enough, you’re Greek, remember.”
Buzz came the message “Macars, 21 cours République 11100 Narbonne”.
We all played lower grades for the University of NSW in the 1960s. Since I’m now 73, the others are probably older. Champs, Georgie, Bob, Peter, Willsy, we are all still standing and lucky that our wives love France. Here we are again at another World Cup.
Champs knew Ken McMullen, ex-Wallaby halfback in the early ’60s and his son runs Macars, a French pub in Narbonne where we were staying during the pool games, near the rugby grounds at Carcassonne and Toulouse.
It was an exciting position we found ourselves in with the poorly prepared All Blacks, their new coach and the controversial Wallabies, all together in a pool with Fiji. Every World Cup there’s a pool of death, and this was it.
Saturday was the big game day for us. Fiji had run the All Blacks off the park in the opening match, and if the Wallabies could beat them and in turn, Fiji, the All Blacks were out, I said out, “O-U-T” spells out and out you must go.
The Kiwi supporters were livid because the Wallabies, technically bankrupt, were being funded by Kayo (Rupert Murdoch). In 2021 a new series had emerged with rugby and rugby league combined into a unique State of Origin format. It was a huge hit, and some of the best Kangaroo backs had adapted brilliantly.
In 2022 Australia won the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in 20 years, 27-21, scoring two converted tries in the final ten minutes. It was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, 100,000 give or take, amid a vast hue and cry from the ex-pat Kiwi community and total dismay back home in NZ.
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
To make matters worse, Australia refused to play Game 4, claiming it would put their players in physical danger, in the Middle East. Australia was coached by Dave Rennie, forwards by Dan McKellar and the backs Stephen Larkham and Brad Fittler.
I remember Marty turning up in Narbonne. Marty was from Christian Brothers Lewisham and as league as they come. He studied industrial relations and made his money in executive recruitment in Singapore. Marty had an incredible list of contacts and stories to tell, and so the conversation turned to Marty.
“Yeah, well Australia has got the All Blacks where they want them. On the back foot. The white-hot pressure on those boys back home is enormous, and they’re only human. I’ve interviewed some of them for player contracts outside NZ, and it’s not pretty. I feel sorry for them in a way, but then I think back, and of all those games we lost in the last ten minutes, and I think, too bad, go Wallabies”.
“Macca, another round for my boys and girls. When’s the replay of the 2000 Bledisloe Cup in Wellington? Let’s make it at 3pm, after lunch. What’s good today?”
I was sitting next to Marty. He had arranged for our wives to visit Cité de Carcassonne, leaving us to chat over coffee for the afternoon.
“Hey, Marty, do you know much about the NZRU selling an equity stake to Oakwell a couple of years ago.”
“First, what did you think about it, CW?” came his reply.
“I like reading NZ rugby stuff, they are so strident, and I’m not even sure they realise they are biased. They have great trouble admitting defeat, but at least they have wide coverage, better than Australia now, where we barely exist”.
“No, the thing I think about is Australia might have dodged a bullet when they went into administration after the Raelene Castle/Israel Folau era. The private equity sharks were circling, but luckily, we set a thief to catch a thief.
“The Macquarie Bank boys knew their game and recommended RA use crowd-funding to recapitalise the business, withdraw from Super Rugby, saving $40 million a year and then out of nowhere came this hybrid game that the old purists hated, but the public adored. The public, from inter-state, who had no idea about the rah-rah, doctors and lawyers rugby old boys club. They wanted entertainment and got it.
“Suddenly the crowds and families were back, live on Facebook, crowds looking into the dressing room, messaging the coaches, getting explanations in real-time what they were thinking, it was amazing. Then they reinvested in the game and Kayo came calling.”
“Yes CW, and back in NZ, they sold 45 per cent of the farm for NZD $250 million to fund Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations but still made a loss. You see that’s the long game these PE guys play. They got a fox into the hen house on the board of NZ Rugby and then when the losses mounted, stacked the board with their guys from private equity”.
“Cheers guys, it’s going to be a hell of a tussle on Saturday”.