From New Zealand with love

All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup victory parade signals an end of six weeks that have shown the life-affirming qualities of sport in a nation that has embraced the tournament.

My Rugby World Cup ended on Monday in a sunlit car park, talking to the man who had just carried the Webb Ellis trophy through the streets of Auckland in front of tens of thousands of proud New Zealanders.

The one-on-one with Richie McCaw lasted all of three seconds, as a bristle of microphones appeared in my peripheral vision and I was barged closer to the captain of the All Blacks by the journalists gathering at my back.

This newly-crowned world champion, the greatest player in rugby, is a couple of months younger than me. I felt about 12 years old as I got in my one question about the 200,000 Kiwis who turned out for the team’s victory parade.

How did that feel?

“Mate, hard to explain. It was pretty awesome,” said McCaw, his face and head flecked with blood from the 8-7 win over France in the final at Eden Park the night before.

“I’m just blown away really, it just shows the amount of passion there is for the All Blacks and for rugby in New Zealand.

“Kiwis sometimes don’t show emotion too much but they certainly showed it there.”

This tournament had the ending that New Zealand needed, following five previous World Cups in which the best team on earth failed to repeat its feat of winning the first trophy in 1987.

Had France managed to get the points they needed to beat New Zealand in 20 minutes of pressure at the end of the match, life would have gone on.

Christchurch loss

The importance of this sporting event pales in comparison to the loss of 181 lives in the earthquake and aftershocks that hit Christchurch in February, and which has crippled a fine city.

Damage to the Lancaster Park stadium also meant that the Rugby World Cup did not go to Canterbury’s provincial capital. But the All Blacks will parade their trophy in the city on Tuesday.

“It will be special,” said McCaw, who plays for the Canterbury Crusaders in the Super 15.

“Everyone in the city of Christchurch has been through a lot, and it will be nice to put a smile on people’s faces.”

There has been plenty to cheer at this World Cup. They may have had to grind it out against France, but New Zealand have played wonderful rugby.

From Sonny Bill Williams’ exhibition ball skills against the likes of Tonga and Japan in the group stages, to their expert demolition of a talented Australia side in the semi-finals and, finally, the proof on Sunday night that they can win ugly when necessary, the All Blacks have had it all.

They deserve the reward for four years’ work, they deserve the title of the best team in the world, and they deserved to beat the battling French.

As a country, New Zealand has also played a blinder. The stadiums have been superb, especially the top-class Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Rugby under a roof could be the future if it generates that much atmosphere.

Wherever you are, you are aware that you are in a beautiful and unique nation, with fantastic people.

It can feel criminal that such a place is stuck in a corner of the globe far from nearly anywhere else. But maybe that also preserves how special it is.

New Zealand can now enjoy four years as world champions.

Those of us who love sport might want to have just one hope for the London Olympics in 2012, the football World Cup in Brazil in 2014, and the next Rugby World Cup in England in 2015 – that they are able to show us as much of the bright side of life as has been shown by New Zealand in September and October, 2011.

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