For fans of the All Blacks, the Rugby World Cup provided a glimmer of hope before ultimately extinguishing it.
The large number of All Blacks supporters at Jack Hackett Sports Bar in Wellington, New Zealand, held on to the unlikely hope that there would be minimal casualties.
Over 100 fans gathered at the Irish-themed bar, which was quickly decorated with silver ferns, New Zealand flags, and black and white balloons hanging from a stuffed moose. They enjoyed a breakfast of hash browns, sausages, and pints of Guinness. Some attendees even wore All Blacks jerseys from 2011 and 2015, the years when New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup.
Only a short time ago, very few of these supporters believed that their nation would be competing once again; even though their performance had improved, the All Blacks were still considered unlikely to win after a year of poor playing. But now, a remarkable turn of events has led them to the final, reigniting the passion and love for the sport in many.
“I was raised like this,” Sam Masima stated as he and two companions gathered in a secluded area. “This is my existence.”
As the chance for a second chance drew near, numerous attendees struggled to calm their nerves. “I’ve been feeling anxious since Friday,” stated James Law, who had invited six friends to join him in watching. “I’ve been trembling for days.”
However, despite feeling anxious, there was also a sense of optimism present. Simon Smith expressed, “I am both nervous and completely confident.” He shared this while finishing his breakfast right before the start of the event. He added, “I am not sure if those emotions can coexist.”
The game started abruptly, with the volume raised so high that the bass reverberated in the chests of the spectators. A bounce of the ball foiled one attempt by New Zealand, while missed passes hindered another. In the rear of the bar, a woman stood by the window, her figure illuminated by the sun shining through a blue New Zealand flag. She clasped her hands together, as if in prayer.
The situation deteriorated when a yellow card was given, and then escalated to a red. The crowd became chaotic. “The game is over now,” remarked Sam Teal. He pulled out his phone to ignore the match, but soon changed his mind and decided not to give up. “No, I still have faith in the team.”
Only one part of the bar wasn’t inundated with black-clad fans: a corner booth occupied by Gareth Hadden, a Springbok supporter from Zimbabwe. “They mean family to me,” he said of the team. But even he was unconvinced they could hold their lead. “It’s pretty standard for the All Blacks to pull it out of the bag at the last minute.”
The first half of the game had ended and the All Blacks were still trailing by a few points. Despite this, their supporters held onto hope. Masima expressed confidence in the All Blacks’ ability to make a comeback. The excitement was so intense that even the drinks and snacks were forgotten. Cheers and screams erupted as a try was made, bringing the team closer to victory. With only two minutes remaining, the All Blacks were just one scrum and two points away from making history.
The atmosphere in the room grew quiet. A fan at the bar seemed to be breathing heavily. Others remained fixated on the TV screen. The Springboks attacked relentlessly. However, it was not sufficient. The referee blew the whistle, signaling the end of the game. The All Blacks had been defeated.
Silence fell as nobody uttered a word. Hadden received a few lackluster claps that quickly died down. Masima, sitting in the corner, could not tear his eyes away from the defeated players on the screen. “I’m completely devastated, man.”
Marv Karawama, who was standing beside him, let out a shaky breath. “We were really hungry. We almost made it.”
The optimism that had recently resurfaced was quickly extinguished. Crowds of supporters departed from the bar, abandoning their unfinished hash browns and partially consumed pints.
The stereo in the background started playing “Slice of Heaven,” a popular song by Dave Dobbyn that holds significance for New Zealanders. Dobbyn’s lyrics of “I have faith in you, and I’ll always support you” resonated throughout the room. The upbeat tune and playful lyrics captured the essence of living with you.