Colours of rugby

Taking in the sights and sounds and thrills and spills of any international tournament is often an experience to behold as our Sydney correspondent found out.

Forty-seven matches down. As I write, just one left to go. The Final: New Zealand – the home side, and the hottest of favourites – against France.

It’s not just the players who will feel the finish line for this World Cup is now tantalisingly within sight.

A tournament of this size – nearly 1.5 million tickets have been sold in all, and the matches are broadcast live to hundreds of millions around the world – takes months and months of planning.

The office that Al Jazeera is based in Sydney, shares space with a company that is providing the satellite trucks to broadcast the games.

Those working on the plans for those trucks were pouring over their maps, spreadsheets and ferry timetables for two years.  

Well over a thousand journalists were accredited for the tournament too. Many have been in New Zealand since before the start of the six-week tournament. It’s beginning to show. Eyes have bags, shirts have crumples.

You see their partners from all over the world, peering out of laptops via Skype. They look tired too. They want their -mainly – husbands home.

As a news, rather than a sports journalist, this has been an interesting experience for me. The stories are the matches. It’s rare in news that the story happens at a pre-defined time in a pre-defined venue, but then almost everything about covering this tournament has been pre-defined.  

It is an incredibly regulated operation, especially for journalists.

Every day an online calendar for journalists is updated, telling us which teams will be doing press conferences, and which will be training.

For each training session, journalists queue patiently behind a gate of one of five Auckland training grounds.

There’s a scramble as we’re all let in we’re allowed to film for just 15 minutes before we’re herded out, and the real team practice gets under way. Behind closed doors.

Rights holders – those TV stations who’ve paid millions to air the actual matches – are given extra access, but for the rest of us making reports look different means concentrating on the fans milling in the streets of Auckland. They give what’s known in the business as the ‘colour’. 

Their costumes and their comments can make an otherwise dull report, featuring one rugby player training after another, come alive.

My favourite bit of ‘colour’ so far?

The Frenchman outside the stadium two days ago: the All Blacks were a better team than his, he conceded. They deserved to win the tournament.  And yes, he accepted, in the pool stage they had already beaten the French.

But the French would still win on Sunday, he claimed.  “It’s revenge. Simply revenge.”

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