Sunday 15:00, September 20th, 2023
Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide
In the year of our Lord, 1057, the Fontfroid Abbey joined the Cistercian brotherhood, the morning after the best and fairest awards dinner. The Viscountess of Narbonne had granted the boys some land, but it became a monastery. We were there today for a Wallaby supporters lunch.
“We will now re-arrange the room for the post mortem Mesdames et Messieurs,” announced Father Jean-Pierre.
“I’m not going to martyr myself reliving every detail of every Wallaby moment from the time you were born, Marty. We’re going on a tour of the terraced garden and then guided meditation with Brother Christophe and Brother Gerard. Don’t drink too much or you’ll start singing again, bye!” said the spirited Eloise.
We moved into the auditorium, and there were Matt Burke and Father Jean-Pierre in Wallaby and Le Coq rugby jumpers.
“Hello Matt, I haven’t seen you since Heathrow on your way home from the RWC in ’99. What did you think of the game?”
“Last night? Yeah, it wasn’t quite the result we wanted, but the rebuilding is coming along, patience fans, under new management.”
Watching the replay, it was groundhog day, right up to the All Blacks’ converted try inside the first ten minutes of the second stanza. They went out to a 17-7 lead. Who’s writing these scripts. They are an outstanding team, sure, but up there in the stands, at crucial times, it appears we choke.
Three minutes after halftime, right on cue, Ardie Savea picked up the ball at the base of the scrum, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi went wide, drew Will Harrison, slipped a short pass to Peter Umaga-Jensen. Try time.
I was sitting between Champs and Marty, an ex-league hooker and a rugby fullback.
“Look, CW, look at the Wallabies standing behind the try line. The youngsters were stung, Harry Wilson and Angus Bell have everyone’s attention. They are winners, who want to win. Now you other blokes, this is the new script!”
There are six 2019 under-20s in the team and two all-time NRL winners. At 20 minutes, Dave Rennie went all in. Australia restarted long. The All Blacks tried to expose James Tedesco with a long kick, easily caught. Up came Joseph Suaalii, with his first touch being a goose step around Braydon Ennor, then inside Richie Mo’unga.
We rose from our seats. He went outside a defender and was brought down 35 metres out but he lost the ball in the ruck (David Campese must be his mentor).
New Zealand kicks deep, Tedesco ran back, to Harrison, deep into the corner. NZ kick into touch. Lineout, our ball. The mistimed throw went right over everyone. I shut my eyes and bury my feelings, but wait, Champs gave me a wake-up call.
Harry Wilson was ankle tapped in the race for the ball then knocked on. The crowd erupted, the captains confronted Top 14 Russian referee Alexey Yanshaev, but Sam Cane stayed a little too long I reckon. It’s up on the big screen, clearly to us.
Australia kicked the penalty from 38 metres out on the sideline, and it was 17-10 (with boos and cheers to send us back to halfway). We are awake now. It is a momentum shift. Go forward, a little dart here, an off-load there, keeping possession, do we dare to dream. Like Kiwis dreaming they could win a one-day cricket final.
Then, with seconds left, the whistle blows, we inhale. Alexey looks at his watch, and it’s a scrum. Holy mother.
Ten metres inside our half — one more throw of the dice. I can see the Australian coaching staff standing up in the coaches box straining to see while the Kiwis are sitting together, with faith in their system and lots of wins under their belt. Time stops, quiet descends on the stadium, everything is still.
Our backs lined up in a triangle formation. They must have done this at training. Scrum all square, set, our ball, Michael McDonald has it. Suaalii and Jordan Petaia race diagonally towards the open side, swinging outside Harrison. McDonald looks and instinctively switches to the blind with Tedesco and Tom Trobjevic. Rennie looks aghast.
McDonald chips over the rushing defence, our Blues heroes are through together, in behind the defence. Tedesco scoops it up from the deck, turns outside, turns inside, turns out, sending Trobjevic for the corner. Tom pins his ears back as the black knights thunder towards him. At the death, Tom centre-kicks it and disappears under the cover with a hamstring tear.
Tom’s kick went high in the air, with a slight draw, swinging into the centre of the field, but there’s no-one to take it. No-one to bloody take it, come on!
That’s when the music started.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
This train is bound for glory,
Don’t carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train is bound for glory, this train.
Allan Alaalatoa is on the charge, don’t carry nothing but the righteous and the holy, chased by Ofa Tuungafasi. It’s too far in front, Tuungafasi is gaining, like two hippos chasing each other. It’s going to be a three-way, it’s starting to swing in, he’s got it, the golden crowd rises as one with a roar you could hear in the Royal Oak.
Big Al takes it, rolls over beside the posts, comes up standing with an Adam Goodes war cry, looking for Eddie McGuire. He turns to Tuungafasi and they embrace with huge grins.
What a moment! What price do you put on that, you lousy administrators?
It finished 17-17, full time.
Back at the Lion Noir, Marty was making a lot of requests of the piano player, Stormy Garrone, and she dared him to come up and sing. Who can forget the falsetto crooning of Marty? If Brother Anthony, his primary school music teacher, could see him now or his wife. Eloise had gone home to bed in an Uber.
“Jesus, how many times do I have to see this?”
Oh, what a night
Late September twenty twenty three
What a very special time for me
As I remember, what a night.
Rugby is the game they play in heaven, c’est vrai n’est-ce pas.