Little joys of playing in a super competition
THERE are moments you don't forget. Like the one-point victories against your foe, or close losses at the death. Then, there is the moment you realise that New Zealand has its very own Bonnie Doon.
I have learnt that rugby in 2012 has been about upsets and expecting the unexpected. So, when skimming through my diary before we departed to the land of The Long White Cloud to play the Highlanders, I was shocked to realise that the new stadium in Dunedin was not our final destination. Melbourne, meet Invercargill.
A true Melburnian who lands in town would notice some differences straight away.
The first thing I do on arrival is to buy a coffee. My standard potion for the day's work is a standard skinny double latte and it was hard to find. Sure there were places that sell coffee, but it was not the underground caffeine culture I was used to back home.
I did notice a cafe advertising tonight’s match and I thought that any establishment spruiking a Victorian rugby side needed to be shown respect.
"Double skinny latte please madam,"I asked.
Hard to imagine anything going wrong with my order, or my day. Although, unexpectedly, my order returns.
"There you are love, double skinny latte," as I am handed two cups of coffee. Note to self, strong double latte, could mean strong or two. Benefit of the doubt by the TMO.
On the way to the hotel, my taxi driver is the brother of the receptionist at the hotel, who also had an uncle who played local rugby back in the day. His brother knew an All Black.
A standard afternoon before a match requires therapy, physiotherapy. I lay down on the wooden plank and take in the rolling green fields outside the hotel and can't help but compare it with my view at home. In Melbourne, I would be admiring 80,000 fans converging on the MCG, whereas here, I take in a similar number of sheep enjoying their day.
There is even the same last-minute ticket rush. I had a phone call from my second cousin I had never met. It was dad's brother's wife's sister's husband. We spoke for about 10 minutes about the good old days. I'm unsure where we are all related really, but it's pleasant. Then he asked me for tickets, and I certainly delivered.
We then set off on the team bus, driven by Bill, who was, funnily enough, related to my earlier taxi driver.
The Highlanders are not a flashy rugby team, but play the game as well as anyone. Hard, no-fuss rugby. Tonight, we need to take inspiration from this and play a simple but effective style of play.
They say Invercargill is a working-class city and we need to take inspiration from this in the way we approach tonight.
And this is where the similarities start.
It's the same paddock, with the same dimensions, and fierce intentions.
The strength of this competition are the towns like Invercargill and the teams such as the Highlanders.
One week you sit at a point where you are looking at the South Pole, the next you are among 40,000 at Newlands, South Africa, under picturesque Table Mountain.
I head for the hills to find a tree, to finish my diary of my day in Invercargill. As I sit back, I think: ''how's the serenity?''
And how fortunate I am to play in this Super Rugby competition.