Palla Ovale’s Tour Diary: Episode 2

Rotorua & Queenstown
If Eden Park is New Zealand’s biggest rugby stadium, then Rotorua’s International Arena holds the honour of being the grassiest.  Palla Ovale thought his days of going to grounds with a grassy knoll were past him once he stopped going to Bray Wanderers home matches, but alas, he hadn’t reckoned on this ground.  In truth, it was a fitting arena, more akin to a provincial game than an international, and both sets of fans clearly enjoyed themselves.
One group who were less happy were the natives, who couldn’t get with the Irish and Russian desire to actually stand in the terrace area.  ‘Sit down guys, you’re in New Zealand now’ was the call.  Most initially obliged, but ended up standing for much of the game.  It’s in keeping with the nature of Kiwis, who are the friendliest, most obliging people you could meet, but turn serious when an oval ball looms into view.
Ireland romped home comfortable winners, and it was the sort of performance Ireland put in all too rarely.  Refusing to play to the opposition’s level, they kept up the tempo and got their best ball carriers running onto the ball.  Heaslip and O’Brien had a field day.  It was Russia’s last game and their lap of honour was warmly applauded by all in the ground.  They have shown flashes of some great rugby, and Northampton have got themselves a rough diamond in Vasily Artemiev.  Their impish scrum half and dynamic No.8 Gresev have also impressed.  However, they lack a Todd Clever or Mamuka Gorgodze, who can wreak havoc around the breakdown and slow down opposition ball, and have leaked tries as a result.  They’ll be better in four years’ time.
The Ovale clan have fled to Queenstown.  Skiing, flying to Milford Sound and a hair-raising canyon swing are all in the bag, and that first Ferg(us McFadden)burger will live in the memory.  The Kiwi goodwill towards Ireland continues, but in spite of beating Australia, Ireland find themselves in the familiar position of needing to win their last pool game against a big, obstinate pack of forwards.  It might be tougher than everyone seems to expect. 
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