The golden ticket for tomorrow's big game. Sean Farrell
Golden Ticket

The Happy Camper: It's the final countdown...

The bags are unpacked(ish) and there’s a city waiting to be explored. The Happy Camper and his merry men soak up the sights and sounds of Auckland before tomorrow’s big match.

APPARENTLY, AUCKLANDERS HAVE a saying that goes: “Don’t like the weather? Stick around.” It took us less time to figure that out for ourselves than it did for us to hear it, and that was from Paddy Wallace.

The clouds on the flight over were ominous. A wall of solid white which, when broken through, revealed only another layer upon layer of cumulonimbus. It circles the capital like a hawk, intermittently lunging in on a hit-and-run.

Last night was consistent enough: cold. However, after sunrise, it was a case of sunny and overcast conditions taking five minute turns each. In mid-morning the weather app on my phone decided it was no longer partly sunny, but partly cloudy instead — what the difference is I am no longer sure.

“All he was missing was the CCCP with hammer and sickle motif”

Our first night in New Zealand was spent doing — guess what — yep, watching rugby.

With Tosh and his angelic appearance being denied service at the nearest off license we went, armed with passports, to a bar called the Back Yard. At home we’d have called it an Aussie pub, because even the New Zealand themed Wool Shed bar on Parnell Street gets that moniker. Here though, I guess it’s just a bar

The smoking section could be seen from the main road and we were drawn in by the crowd which seem incredibly enthusiastic for a match between two of the sport’s minnows. With necks craned up, the local contingent shout ironic cries of “USA USA” in between roaring the most memorable song from Team America (“F**k yeah!”)

The reason for their vociferous support was a small band of Russians on the other side of the bar.  It was difficult to hear them initially through the din, but once the crowd dispersed at half time, they became unmistakable with their taut faces and blond hair. One heavy set Rooskie in particular looked like a caricature from Grand Theft Auto, wearing a red tracksuit from head to toe; all he was missing was the CCCP with hammer and sickle motif.

Our home for the next six weeks — complete with TheScore’s banner.

Suffering chronic fatigue, we didn’t last long past Eddie O’Sullivan’s post-match interview and were asleep as soon as head met pillow. Waking up was a slow process and in true Irish style, it took about six cups of tea between us before the door could be opened, unleashing us to head south into the city.

Auckland looks like a creation from Sim City. The surrounding suburbs of low detached homes are built on moderate to steep inclines. However, once our eyes reach a crest of a hill, the city seems to spear up from the ground with skyscrapers that are mightily impressive but seem wholly unnecessary.

Before we came down to this hemisphere, any talk of weather always included a mention for Wellington and the notorious wind there. Well, it must be a constant drain on the Beaufort scale because Auckland is far from calm. The streets are wide and clean, evidently swept by the gusts coming in off the Pacific and the Tasman. The flags bellow a deafening ripple, the traffic lights shake and our jackets puff up to make us look like the incredible hulk, or Stephen Ferris.

Auckland: “A creation from Sim City”

Under pressure

The All Blacks play today and it is striking how much pressure is on these boys. Advertisements on every corner carry their face and torso, every newspaper has a black jersey front and back. The anxiety amongst locals was showcased by conspiracy doing the rounds in recent days which said that Mils Muliaina, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were not actually injured, but rested.

It’s amusing because, like us, New Zealanders are petrified of a repeat of 2007. Unlike us, it’s because they feel their side had a soft run through the group and were caught undercooked in Cardiff.

McCaw was desperate to make his 100th cap, Muliaina intent on proving that Graham Henry’s sentimentality was not a reason for his selection at fullback over Israel Dagg, and Carter, well even New Zealand can’t willingly do without the world’s finest number 10.

Even without that trio, watching the silver fern and the brave blossoms go at it tonight will be just as much a breath of fresh air as this North Shore breeze.

Read the rest of Sean’s postcards from the edge here >

View from the Frontline: Simon Hick’s World Cup dispatches, Part 1 >

Pocock sits out training, could still face Ireland >

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