Deborah Coddington
Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: At last, good tidings to rally us for the next battle

Thousands turn out to watch the All Blacks Rugby World Cup celebration parade. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Thousands turn out to watch the All Blacks Rugby World Cup celebration parade. Photo / Sarah Ivey

It wasn't just a game. We had to win; we were the host nation. The alternative was too dreadful to contemplate.

I don't care if the intellectuals say there's no such thing, rugby is our national game. Deniers can get over themselves and accept it. Hockey, soccer, even cricket - nothing else comes near rugby in terms of spectator popularity, especially after this victory.

It's taken rugby to almost every heart in the nation. I know a young woman who hated rugby just days before the opening ceremony, then sat down and watched the final and enjoyed it, never knowing how much fun there was in seeing 15 men at the top of their skills, spurred on by the roaring crowd, claim that Cup.

How many school kids dream of sailing the America's Cup compared with pulling on that All Black jersey? I doubt many nippers have slipped a note into their granddad's coffin on which they'd written: "Now you'll never get to see me be a Silver Fern."

Not that we don't cheer on these winners, but even they look up to the All Blacks. And the All Blacks honour the All Black greats, which is what this country has unashamedly done these past weeks, and good on us. Why shouldn't we be happy, after the terrible year the country has endured?

With car flags fluttering, for seven weeks Kiwi roads have been jubilant motorcades and our own people have been the VIPs. Rugby has united and levelled us.

Finally, we've thrown off our insecurity complex, the cultural cringe, but without being arrogant bastards. Before the final, when Richie McCaw was asked if he'd ever touched the Webb Ellis Cup, he replied in the negative. Not because he thought it was bad luck, but he thought you had to earn the right to hold it.

There's a big difference between arrogance and confidence. Those who are all gloss and no substance are marked by the former, but as McCaw has said, his team had to "dig as deep as we ever had before" to beat off the French. And he spoke of Stephen Donald's "composure".

Graham Henry said the players' faith and belief in themselves and each other was what won the game.

Believing in ourselves: that's what this country has always needed a big, fat dose of and now we have the vote of confidence from every overseas commentator who came here with their laptops, cameras, doubt and cynicism. Even International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who was hugely impressed, said there was no reason we couldn't host an Olympic Games.

We can learn from McCaw and stop panicking in a crisis, like when a ship runs aground on a reef. Despite all the media hype, we do have experts in this country who are capable of getting on with the job of fixing things. The beaches are not ruined. Tauranga's summer has not, as one national newspaper put it, been "stolen".

And, at last, we can stop handwringing over our penchant for wearing black. It's always been elegant and it suits us - black always looks sharp. Just watch the world emulate the All Blacks' skintight black jerseys.

Maybe now's a good time to have a think about our flag. We're seeing the Silver Fern in everything, from clouds to waka to cappuccino foam. And we've thankfully moved firmly along when it comes to singing the national anthem in Maori - it's now considered embarrassing to not know the te reo version, rather than vice versa.

I'm not preaching that everyone should rave about rugby - there are more important things in town. But the All Blacks' victory says important things about our culture, because it required far more mental strength than physical ability when the French fought back hard.

That's a salutary lesson for this country. In the next three years we face, in economic terms, the equivalent of the French rugby team gouging our eyes out.

To take that metaphor further, it's largely Europe's fault that we have fiscal problems.

It will be tense. It will be close. But if we dig deep, don't panic, stay composed and believe in ourselves, we'll be OK.

- Herald on Sunday

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