This one’s for relief. The next one’s for joy.
Picture ex New York Times
The wait is over. The nerves assuaged. The World Cup jinx shattered. On Sunday night we could finally party like we’d wanted to in 1991, ‘95, ‘99, ‘03, and ‘07. The long wait for a Wold Cup was was finally over, and the partying could start in earnest.
The moment when it came was explosive. Strangers were hugging strangers. People you didn’t know wanted to tell you every World Cup loss they’d been to, and how this one made it all better. Everyone was cheering Stephen Donald to a standstill (Stephen Donald!), and folk who knew better were singing along with gusto to a Freddy Mercury song to which in younger days they’d sworn eternal hostility. (Yes, I confess, I was there too.) Hell, there were even people cheering Steve Hansen to the rafters for his cunning lineout move, and others could be heard thanking Helen Clark for getting the Cup here in the first place.
There was joy aplenty, but not unalloyed joy. It was joy heavily tinged with relief—and not just because the victory was so narrow, nor because the French team had fought so heroically, and so nearly successfully, to deny the ABs the victory. It was relief that after twenty-four years the moment was finally here; that the Cup we’d thought we owned was finally ours; that for four years we could say our team are not chokers, they are the Wold Champions!
Let’s just say those last five words again, just because they sound so good: They are the World Champions!
It seems a long wait. Twenty-four years, and within that an inexorable four-yearly cycle in which the nation’s psyche was dissected anew with every semi-final and quarter-final disaster. It was hell, wasn’t it.
Yet perhaps this narrowest of victories—so sternly fought for; and with all our home ground advantages so narrowly and heroically won—might just tell us all the lesson we needed to learn: that to win a World Cup, in any code, is surely a task as hard, as tough, as the victory when it’s achieved is sweet. And more: that all those years of crying at our failure cut so deeply because all that time we thought the trophy was ours by right; we learned on Sunday that the trophy needs to be fought for, and fought for with every last sinew. (As Matt said in yesterday’s comments, “You're a world champion if you can take what that French team threw at NZ and prevail.”)
Perhaps now we’ve won it in the tensest of struggles to a team everyone was unaccountably ready to write off we might now realise how difficult the task of raising the Cup really is, and we can perhaps prepare to forgive some of those on whom we’ve poured scorn in failures past. (Okay, maybe not John Mitchell, but if Stephen Donald can be so rapidly rehabilitated … ?)
Now we’ve got the monkey off our backs we can reflect that we never really owned the World Cup at all, and victory in its pursuit is sorely won, and so much more worthy of celebration for all that.
Which means next time we can celebrate with pure joy, and not just with relief.