Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

All Blacks: (Don't) party like it's the 1987 Rugby World Cup final

The All Blacks performing the haka during before the  1987 Rugby World Cup match against France. Photo / NZ Herald
The All Blacks performing the haka during before the 1987 Rugby World Cup match against France. Photo / NZ Herald

Win or lose tomorrow, one thing is certain - the All Blacks will at least make the front page on Monday.

Coverage of six World Cup finals on the New Zealand Herald's front page ranges from full-page splashes to the non-existent.

The All Blacks' first World Cup victory did not even rate a mention in the first section of the Herald on June 22, 1987.

That front page was taken by proposed high-school zoning charges and the sinister disappearance of 6-year-old Teresa Cormack, who went missing the day before the final.

Articles on the World Cup in the sports section reflected the amateur nature of the tournament and the sport. A story about captain David Kirk suggested he would give up rugby to embark on his Rhodes Scholarship, despite being only 26 years old.

The Herald editor in 1987, Peter Scherer, said: "The World Cup wasn't professional, it wasn't commercial and it wasn't national news.

It belonged in the sport section.

"Besides, everyone knew the result [of the Saturday final]. It was all a bit old hat by the time the Herald was published on Monday morning."

Journalist DJ Cameron, a Herald sportswriter at the time, said the coverage reflected an amateur, unofficial competition which had little of the hype of this year's World Cup.

"It was a different kind of atmosphere. The game was in the afternoon so everyone was pretty sober. Now, by nine or 10 o'clock, I reckon half the people at Eden Park are halfway under.

"You wouldn't get the screaming or the booing or music piped over the public address system. It was very low-key, informal and well-behaved. They were all on their way home by five o'clock."

Eden Park was filled with 46,000 spectators - twice as many as at the opening game of the first tournament, where people who turned up at the last minute could get a prime seat for $15. Poor satellite links meant the game was not broadcast live to Europe.

"It was almost like a little private party 24 years ago," said Cameron. "Politicians didn't play any part unless they wanted a ticket. Superstars from overseas weren't about."

Stadium cafeterias sold pies and cups of chips and the only alcohol - banned from the stadium - was in the temporary wooden grandstand constructed in the backyard of Eden Park neighbour Monica O'Sullivan.

Footage of the occasion shows a muddy ground and a crowd so quiet that seagulls landed on the pitch, undeterred by the occasion.

Before the anthems, roosters with tricolour ribbons were released by French fans, with policemen creeping up on the birds, Keystone Cops-like, in an effort to catch them.

By 1991, the All Blacks had fallen in performance but risen in profile. Their semifinal loss to Australia in Dublin earned a place on the Herald's front page.

In 1995, half of page one was dedicated to photographs of New Zealand's narrow loss to South Africa in Johannesburg - the first in a series of dejected All Black faces at World Cups.

The blank, disconsolate stare in 1999 belonged to coach John Hart, who returned home to public hostility after New Zealand were knocked out by France.

In the first World Cup of the professional era, the All Blacks' elimination was the lead story.

Expectations had been lowered by 2003, when the Herald reported less fury at the All Blacks' exit.

But public and media venom had returned by 2007, when the Herald's front page featured a damning review of the All Black side and management in 72-point headlines.

Blue or black ink awaits distribution across pages of Monday's Herald. But there might not be a font large enough to capture the agony if the New Zealand side fail again.

- NZ Herald

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