There was a time when no one would have had a clue what the term 'buffering' meant. Many, the writer included, no doubt still don't. Apparently it has something to do with the video they are trying to watch still downloading. Which, it seems, somewhat spoils their enjoyment watching something like, for example, the All Blacks beating Ireland in the RWC quarter-final.

Enough people experienced buffering late on Saturday night/early Sunday morning to produce a flood of demands for refunds from Spark Sport, but they might console themselves with the thought that following the All Blacks when they play overseas is getting easier, despite the technical difficulties that have plagued Spark's coverage of the tournament in Japan.

Once upon a time pictures took a week to arrive in New Zealand, and people from one end of the country to the other huddled around their tiny television sets, where snow was more likely to be an issue than anything else, to watch a game that they knew the result of, but which captivated them nonetheless.

So it was in 1970, when the All Blacks toured South Africa in the vain hope of winning a series there for the first time. They didn't. Mind you, in those days the script was pretty much written before the players left home. The South Africans had an uncanny knack of winning games against all odds, as they would continue to do until the advent of neutral referees in 1996.


Technology in those days had got no further than radio, and even that demanded some dedication. In 1970 my father and I listened to every game on the car radio — for some reason we couldn't get it in the house — and that was not for the faint of heart. The car had to be backed out of the garage, and, in those pre-global warming days, it tended to be cold at 2am on a Sunday, so the windows would be up and the engine running so we could use the heater. And Dad smoked. Constantly.

When the All Blacks lost the air turned even bluer than it was courtesy of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes. The despair that followed an All Black defeat was even more all-consuming then than it is now. Even the mildest-mannered fan could be expected to lose all semblance of self-control.

One Sunday morning in 1970 Mum, my sister and I walked a few doors along Church Rd to visit Mum's aunt, Bertha Pearson, who lived with her daughter Ettie and son-in-law Angus (AB, Mac) MacDonald, who were deep into their retirement, having sold their dairy farm on Ruaroa Rd, just south of Kaitaia.

There was an atmosphere that Sunday morning. Mac, the gentlest of souls, was clearly in bad odour with his mother-in-law, and when he absented himself briefly to make another pot of tea Mum asked Bertha what had happened. She had woken in the early hours, she said, to hear "the foulest language" coming out of the sitting room. I couldn't imagine then, and can't now, quite how Mac might have vented his frustration and disappointment, but almost half a century later I still doubt that he would have resorted to anything more offensive than the occasional "damn!"

Anyway, the following Sunday afternoon we sat down to watch the game, delayed to an extent that seems extraordinary now.

The same routine had applied in 1967, when the All Blacks toured Britain and France. The Anglican Māori pastor, one Rev Wiremu, if memory serves, who lived around the corner in Te Ahu St, could be expected to call in on a Sunday afternoon to tell Mum, the organist at St Saviour's, what hymns were to be sung the following Sunday. During that All Black tour he arrived, unfailingly, moments before kick-off.

"Oh," he would say every Sunday, "there's football on TV." He would sit and watch the game, then leap to his feet, say to Mum "237, 48, 200 and 104," and head for the door.

If rugby remains all-consuming (for many of us) these days, it really was once a religion, with none of the competition the game has these days from league, netball, football, mixed martial arts, sailing, or any of the other codes that now vie for our attention and loyalty. There was a time when my father would take me to Whangārei to see North Auckland, as we were then, play teams like Thames Valley, and win by a telephone number at a time when double-figure wins were a relative rarity.


Half of Kaitaia would be in the stand at Okara Park, having left home very early in the morning, with lunch at the Quo Vadis and expecting to get home in time for tea. Getting there was a big effort, but one that many people made every weekend, to watch a team largely made up of farmers deal to the opposition, including Auckland. It probably helped that in the 1960s and '70s at least, North Auckland was a team to be feared; if they didn't win the game, it was said, they would win the fight. And players like Sid, Brian and Ken Going, Joe Morgan, Richie Guy, and before them Peter Hilton-Jones, were well worth travelling to see.

When North Auckland played the British and Irish Lions in 1971, the final provincial game before the last, deciding (and drawn) test, which gave the Lions their first series win against the All Blacks (and the All Blacks their first series loss at home since 1949), not one more person could have been squeezed on to the embankment at Okara Park.

North Auckland lost that day, narrowly, giving the Lions an unprecedented clean sweep against the provinces, but the wall of noise that drove hooker Richie Guy 20 metres to the goal line, with not a tackler in sight, was something never to be forgotten.

Nowadays we expect to see every game of note, and others, within our own homes, live, without interruption and certainly without buffering. Those who went to such great lengths to support their teams wherever they played and whatever the weather all those years ago would now no doubt be somewhat bemused, although one suspects that any sort of technical glitch would have resulted in a fresh burst of expletives from one's father, as he lit another cigarette.

Dad died in 1980, without ever seeing a rugby match live on television. And if he had been able to watch them at home he might not have made such an effort to get to Whangārei to see North Auckland. But he would surely have appreciated the extraordinary technology that now gives every last one of us the best seats in any stadium anywhere in the world.

And if he was here today he would no doubt be hoping for an All Black vs Wales final of the RWC. For all the difficulties the All Blacks had in beating 16-man Springbok sides in South Africa, Wales was the real foe as far as he was concerned. He wasn't so worried about losing to England — "They've had enough hidings over the years," he once said, "but no one ever really beat Wales. They just score more points than they (the Welsh) do."

Given the rarity of Welsh wins, the last in 1953, that always seemed a little harsh, but rugby was important in those days. Even more important than it is to some now.

Dad would have enjoyed the quarter-final win over Ireland, and he would be relishing Saturday's semi-final against England, but it would be unlikely that Rev Wiremu would arrive at that time of night to tell Mum which hymns to practise over the next week. He would no doubt be watching it in his own living room, buffering and all.