Southern fans need All Black stamina to follow World Cup

 21 Oct 2015 - 10:01

Southern fans need All Black stamina to follow World Cup


Wellington: In the capital of rugby-obsessed New Zealand, bars are packed by breakfast time when the All Blacks are playing in the World Cup.

It's hard work for the fans of the four teams -- New Zealand v South Africa, Argentina v Australia -- playing in this weekend's semi-finals on the other side of the world in London.

The time difference in the southern hemisphere has forced die-hard supporters to drag themselves out of bed at ungodly hours, battling sleep and cold weather to watch the matches live at local pubs.

In New Zealand the government passed special legislation to extend opening hours in pubs during the tournament, allowing fans to celebrate in the wee hours as the defending champions charged toward the semi-finals.

There were objections to the move from some groups fearing a spike in anti-social behaviour, but the New Zealand Hospitality Association said the public shared no such qualms.

"People are doing exactly as we predicted -- getting together with their mates and family to enjoy the rugby, have a bit of breakfast and lots of coffee," chief executive Bruce Robertson said.

New Zealand had cold, windy weather over the weekend when the All Blacks hammered France 62-13 in their last pool match, so many stayed home to watch on television.

Auckland power firm Vector reported that demand across its network shot up at half-time on Sunday morning "when kettles were boiled and espresso machines turned on".

The 2011 Rugby World Cup final remains the highest rating programme in New Zealand history and at least five of the all-time top 10 programmes are believed to be rugby matches.

In neighbouring Australia -- where most matches have screened in the middle of the night -- support for the Wallabies at local pubs has been subdued, with most fans preferring replays at more sociable hours than hauling themselves to the bar.

But an excitable crowd of several hundred flocked to the sports bar at Sydney's Star Casino to watch the Wallabies scrape past Scotland in a cliffhanger finish last weekend.

"It was an ugly win, but you know, a win's a win," said Matt Rowlands, sitting among a smattering of downcast Scottish supporters.

"You take it at this time in the tournament, a quarter-final win. We're into the next round." 

South Africa also has wall-to-wall television coverage of games, with a host of experts calling the matches from former Springboks coach Nick Mallett to ex-All Blacks skipper Taine Randall and retired England star Lewis Moody.

Hundreds of supporters have gathered around big screens across Johannesburg for a pre-match "braai" (barbecue) and plenty of beer.

But despite the crowds on match days the national mood has been more subdued than in 2011 when South Africa was widely expected to retain their title.

Fans have been encouraged to wear Springbok jerseys on Fridays and while many have, support has been lukewarm and far fewer national flags have been flying from offices, homes and cars than four years ago.

The Springboks' 34-32 loss to Japan in their opening match in England also sent a huge jolt through the proud rugby nation. Many fans meanwhile said they couldn't make the trip to England to support their side, blaming a fall in the rand.

Argentina's surprise run has also suffered from the time difference with England, with just a few Australian, British and Georgian expatriates spotted in Buenos Aires sports bars to watch the matches.

A photo of Juan Imhoff diving for Argentina's third try against Ireland shared the front page of the Ole sports daily on Monday with top football side Boca Juniors, who are close to claiming their 31st Argentinian title.

And this Sunday when Argentina faces a tough clash with Australia, many Argentines will be more worried about a political scrum -- the first round of presidential elections to see who will take over after 12 years under Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.