I’ve been playing rugby since I was eleven. For me, it is the game they play in heaven. Last week, I was in New Zealand for the two French tests and was lucky enough to be invited into their box by the New Zealand Rugby Union. It was just great, a chance to catch up with friends from way back, like Eddie Tonks, a former Chairman of New Zealand Rugby Union; Jock Hobbs, the current Chairman, ex-All Black Captain and ex-Vale of Lune Captain!; Peter Keen and Steven Smith the Lion Nathan Supremus.
Friday night in Wellington saw a great dinner at Shed 5 with Stephen Overend, New Zealand’s most friendly maitre d’, in charge. Murray Mexted, an All Black legend and No. 8, put together an entertaining table headed by Dave Loveridge, probably New Zealand’s greatest ever halfback, and along with Gareth Edwards, one of the two best halfbacks the world has ever known. Nigel Melville, ex-England Captain, British Lion and USA Rugby CEO, held up the Northern Hemisphere’s end and, we were joined by the most passionate rugby guy I’ve ever met, Bill Middleton, another Kiwi who is on USA Rugby’s Board. A bunch of old Wellington and All Black players also joined us, including Earle Kirton who was my boyhood hero. Families being what they are, his younger son Dan was having a few beers with my eldest son Ben in London as his Dad and I were pouring them back in Wellington. Graham Henry, Wayne Smith, Steve Hanson, Mike Cron and the All Black coaching team were also at Shed 5. Even the French coaching team showed up there, but they took one look around at their Kiwi counterparts and headed to another restaurant. I guess being in such close proximity the night before a game was too much even for rugby families to endure.
Saturday came with a lot of catch-ups with ex Lion Nathan friends such as Dennis Pickup, Peter Keane, Steve Smith, Fraser Holland and other Steinlager advocates. Steinlager, New Zealand’s finest beer, has been revamped brilliantly with a new flanker called Steinlager Pure. It comes in very modern packaging, with no additives or preservatives, and beautifully captures New Zealand’s pure green global positioning. For those of us brought up on Steinlager, it has suffered over the years from its reputation for delivering the most potent of hangovers. When I worked for the company, our brewers always told me this was not justified and had more to do with the quantity consumed! Steinlager Pure, however, really attacks this issue head-on and in a positive way. It is a terrific piece of positioning. Unfortunately, Sod’s Law kicked in and I wasn’t wasn’t able to taste it as the product didn’t arrive in time for the Wellington test. They did have some in the Air New Zealand Koru Club Lounge on the way home, but 8:30am on a Sunday morning was too much for even for me.
The global rugby community is something special and is unparalleled in sport. Our dream at US Rugby is “to inspire Americans to love rugby the way we do”. A big part of that is the lifelong international community that goes with the game. If you’ve got kids, throw them an oval ball and get them a DVD of Dan Carter. They’ll thank you for life.