Palla Ovale’s Tour Diary

Episode 1 – Auckland: Sweet As, Bro’

Yep, one team has been dominating the rugby conversation in Auckland and beyond this week, and for once it’s not the one in black.  Well, it is, but they’ve also talked a lot about Ireland.  Between defeating the Aussies, creating an atmosphere in Eden Park that they’re just not used to (rugby is considered too serious a matter for singing and chanting) and painting the streets green, the Irish have become the toast of the town.  There’s only one thing these rugby-mad people prefer to see thjan the Kiwis winning, and that’s the Aussies losing.  The Ovale clan have been besieged by uber-friendly folk dying to congratulate them on the win – it’s almost as if Palla himself was the one that shoved the Aussie scrum backwards time and again.

Even the Kiwi journos are impressed.  The Herald hailed the ‘Tullow Tank’ as a superstar in waiting.  Every Irish shirt in Auckland is sold out.  Suddenly Ireland are the new darlings in a countrry where they are used to getting a pasting and going home with their tail between their legs.

The Ovale touring party is revelling in it.  A trip to Waiheke finished with an impulsive purchase of a ridiculously priced bottle of wine to mark the occasion.  A stop in to the Matakana local pub led to the owners sitting down for over an hour to talk rugger and more.  Every shopkeeper, boat-driver or passer-by wants to stop and chat.  It’s a far cry from Paris in 2007, when you’d barely have known the world cup was taking place.

As for Ireland, well, Paul O’Connell summed it up.  It is great that Ireland can dredge up outstanding performances when painted into a corner, but consistency is required.  Ireland need to maintain a level when the occasion is more humdrum, and doesn’t enable them to draw on emotional reserves.  The Italy match, and probable meeting with Wales will be two such games – Ireland will be favourites, and will have to deal with a new kind of pressure: the entire nation of New Zealand will be behind them, while the media back home are as supportive as ever.  There’ll be no room for a siege mentality, and another emotional jersey presentation from Jirry Flannery is unlikely (unless it’s via Skype).  The boys will have to simply go out there and play rugby as best they can.  The job starts on Sunday when the midweek team will be expected to match Italy’s scoring feats against an ailing Russia side that must now be ready for the homeward journey.  A handsome bonus-point victory is needed to keep the positive momentum going.  Roll on Rotorua!