Declan Kidney and Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll face the press in Wellington earlier. (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
WELLINGTON IS A city apart, the self-styled party city, the cool city, the caffeine-addicted city.
There’s a coffee shop every 50 yards, the locals walk and talk a little faster than your average New Zealander and there is a sense of a city with very little time on its hands.
The men are floppy-haired and pale, often seen in converse runners not fully laced. Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads and Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford always laced up their shoes good and tight, and surely can’t be happy with how the capital city goes about its business these days.
Second-hand record stores or street art or an interest in soccer are not noteworthy things in Dublin, Galway or Cork. For Wellingtonians, its their unique selling point.
It lies on a peninsula between the north and south islands, so the air gets squeezed and funnelled into a tight space, which creates havoc with the weather.
The locals can be heard chattering excitedly about the howling southerly wind thats forecast this week, delighted that it means the end for the even more ferocious westerly being endured. They constantly have to distract themselves from the weather, so that leaves space for the finer things in life.
‘All flash and no substance’
Rugby is still huge here, mind, and the local Super 15 team the Hurricanes are a good side, usually near the top of the table, threatening to be brilliant, but never quite coming through.
Crucially, they never win anything, leaving that sort of madness to the more earnest Christchurch folk. They have a nice new stadium, money, and a huge history with players such as Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga numbered among their former greats.
They usually have the best backline in the competition too, all flash and no substance, which is how rural New Zealand likes to portray the city as a whole.
Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu are part of their current bunch, or were, in Nonu’s case. Nonu, the form player in world rugby, one of the best centres ever to play the game, was let go at the end of the club season, in mysterious fashion. It wasn’t the eye make-up or the dreads or the tattoos, but some unexplained falling out with his coach, a personality problem.
Nonu is a hard worker, consistently explosive, rarely steps out of line, but is seen as mildly odd. This would be like letting Messi leave your club because he was too introverted.
When talking to the locals about the absence of Dan Carter, the name that cropped up most was not his replacement Colin Slade, but Ma’a Nonu. Dan is gone, but the All Blacks still have the second best player in the world, is the current thinking on the issue.
Nonu sums up Wellington – moody, aloof, cool, brilliant, instantly recognisable, and incredibly marketable with the Venus Williams hair beads, the Kate Moss eyeliner and the Mike Tyson muscles.
So why do you never see him interviewed, why no underwear billboards, no macho deoderant ads, not even a bottled water named after him?
Instead, just a small voice selling mattresses on a local radio station.