IN LESS than 48 hours, the All Blacks will unleash 24-years of pent up fury in an all-out assault for world rugby supremacy.
Standing in their way are 15 Frenchmen who tottered into the final of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, thanks to an Irish referee’s controversial ruling.
But for all their unpredictability and passion, most punters expect Les Bleus to crumble a second time to the All Blacks who had already trounced them in their earlier pool match.
Form, superior skills, stamina, self-belief, fan support and home ground advantage give the ABs the edge. Only a miracle or something supernatural can help the French pull off another upset.
And what a soothing antidote an All Blacks triumph will be for New Zealand which has been hammered by one disaster after another over the past year.
For a while at least the Kiwis can forget about the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes and now the MV Rena oil spill in the sea off Tauranga, which is shaping up as New Zealand’s greatest environment disaster.
What makes it so sweet this time for Kiwis was the All Blacks’ 20-6 defeat of the Wallabies last Sunday. Now they can give the Wallabies a taste of their own medicine by telling them to wait “four more years”.
That was the taunt Wallabies captain George Gregan hurled at the All Blacks after his team upset the All Blacks at the 2003 RWC.
I admit, without shame, that the Wallabies’ humiliation gave me tremendous satisfaction.
Even the missus and her mahjong kakis have been infected by the rugby virus. Ever since the 2011 RWC began in September, my better half has not missed a single televised match and does not hide her admiration for that muscled hunk named Sonny Bill Williams.
Although she had never seen a rugby ball before following me to this country 23 years ago, she now knows a bit about scrums, line-outs, rucks, rolling mauls, tries and drop goals.
So in rugby and the All Blacks, it seems we have something new and refreshing to talk about. It can be a safety valve for better domestic harmony although according to past reports, an All Blacks defeat can spark off an increase in domestic violence.
This trans-Tasman rivalry in sports has always been a salient feature of NZ-Australia relationship. Losing to Oz is just about the most painful blow a Kiwi sports fan can take.
The feeling is mutual, judging by the Aussie coverage of the RWC, sports commentators.
What galls many NZ rugby fans is that the Wallabies, who had lost 11 of their last 14 encounters with the ABs, have won the RWC twice while the All Blacks have failed in five attempts after winning the inaugural tournament in 1987.
In recent years, the Wallabies have stepped up their mind games by labelling the All Blacks, despite their awesome win record in test matches, as “the world’s greatest chokers” on the RWC field.
Even some Malaysian friends living in Australia have been swept up by the Aussie propaganda, posting predictions of Wallabies victory over the All Blacks in their Facebook page.
One fellow journo and rugby enthusiast, who shall remain unnamed, had the good instincts of praising the Wallabies but betting on the All Blacks to win. Good for him!
But while the sporting rivalry may have sometimes turned nasty, NZ-Australia relations at the diplomatic level have in fact improved considerably.
Much goodwill was generated on both sides of the Tasman when the two nations sent relief and rescue teams to help each other when natural and man-made disasters struck.
As the RWC draws to a close, one might ask: how much did NZ businesses gain financially?
According to a Motel Association survey, many motels have in fact experienced a drop in business because locals were not travelling because of “rugby festivities” and fear of price gouging.
Many motels and hotels had increased rates, some by up to 15 times, in anticipation of a boom during the tournament but the survey found nearly half of its members reported lower bookings than usual.
“Many Kiwis are choosing to stay at home during the World Cup, with reports of floods of overseas tourists and overpriced accommodation proving a deterrent to domestic travel,” association chief executive Michael Baines told the New Zealand Herald.
“With the exception of motels in Auckland and Wellington, those in cities which had no opportunity to play host to any of the games (have been) hit the hardest.”
The survey of 175 motels NZ-wide found 48% reporting poorer business than usual during the RWC.
Only 28% reported an increase in business, and nearly 60% reported a drop in the number of domestic visitors with only 14% experiencing a rise.
Baines said overall business had been about 20% down on the same period last year, and estimated that to be between $15mil and $25mil in turnover losses.
Neil Barker, owner of Manukau Motor Lodge, said he increased accommodation rates by about 18%, hoping for a cup windfall but instead suffered a “rather significant” drop in bookings.
But the Motel Association remains optimistic that things will go right for motels in the long term.
“In all major sporting events, even the likes of Fifa World Cup, there’s always an expectation it’s going to be full, but the reality is that it never is,” Baines said.
“I think the Rugby World Cup has made New Zealanders see the country through the eyes of international visitors, and realise what a fantastic place this is, and hopefully it will stimulate them to travel around New Zealand in future.”