Do you remember where you were when the All Blacks lost in Cardiff eight years ago? On the eve of the quarter final against France, Greg Bruce reflects on how life can be defined by a tournament that comes round every four years.

1987

In 1987, I was 10 and I can't remember ever having been as excited about anything as I was about the Rugby World Cup. I had just made my own breakthrough as a thoughtful midfielder in the Pakuranga Heights Primary School team.

I really felt I had a rare vision and understanding for the game that could take me to the top, which also summed up my feelings about life.

After one lunchtime match, which we lost, I came back into my classroom singing 'We are the champions' quietly to myself, because I believed it. A loss was temporary and my talent was transcendent.

All Black captain David Kirk with the cup after defeating France in the 1987 World Cup final. Photo / John Stone
All Black captain David Kirk with the cup after defeating France in the 1987 World Cup final. Photo / John Stone

I was the house leader for Weka and I was a young narcissist. I remember watching John Kirwan's incredible solo try in the opening World Cup match against Italy on live television by myself at home.

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I was probably not by myself but that is how childhood often felt to me. I was in a bubble. It sounds lonely, but I think it just reflected how I saw life, which is to say selfishly.

Midway through the tournament, my parents and I went on a two-week campervan trip around the South Island.

I remember that trip vividly, for many reasons: we went on an eerie tour of a dark and massive hydro electric power station, possibly Manapouri, just me and my parents, led by a man in a hardhat who seemed surprised by our presence; Queenstown was grey and cold and everything was closed; it's the last time I can remember thinking my parents were in love with, or even fond of, each other.

Greg Bruce (far right, middle row) with his Pakuranga Heights rugby school team in 1987. Photo / Supplied
Greg Bruce (far right, middle row) with his Pakuranga Heights rugby school team in 1987. Photo / Supplied

But there is no memory stronger for me than watching the World Cup quarter-final on our campervan's TV in a Hokitika campground and seeing Sean Fitzpatrick running free down the wing and smashing over the Scottish defence.

On the morning of the 1987 World Cup final, the Pakuranga under-11s inevitably won their match at Ti Rakau Park.

I went home excited and sure about the final in the way of a child who knows nothing bad is ever going to happen. It's so strange to write those words now and know they were once true.

At one point, David Kirk disappeared into a maul where, for a second or two, the most probable outcome was death, then he emerged, miraculously untouched, and set up a try for John Kirwan.

It felt like the sort of magic that happened regularly and only to the All Blacks and to me. It was the end of the golden weather.

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1991

Nick Farr-Jones and David Campese hold the trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup in 1991. Photo / Getty Images
Nick Farr-Jones and David Campese hold the trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup in 1991. Photo / Getty Images

By 1991, I was 14 and had spent two years being wretchedly bullied after moving house and school in 1989.

Kids in my own rugby team sometimes spat at me and often laughed at me for standing in the wrong place at practice. I went whole games without being passed the ball.

I watched the All Blacks' semifinal loss to Australia in the middle of the night, in bed with my parents, whose relationship, I by then knew, was in a shambles.

Every time the All Blacks conceded points, I hit myself in the legs, hoping that would dull my pain. Viewed through the pessimistic lens of my difficult adolescence, an All Black loss that year was inevitable.

I remember so little about that tournament. I can name the All Blacks' starting lineup from 1987, every team they played, the rough scorelines of each game, and I can recall many of the tries. The only things I can remember from 1991 are David Campese scoring an incredible try, and a fuzzy image of Bernie McCahill, scapegoat.

1995

Jonah Lomu dives over for a try during the 1995 Rugby World Cup match between England and New Zealand. Photo / Allsport
Jonah Lomu dives over for a try during the 1995 Rugby World Cup match between England and New Zealand. Photo / Allsport

In 1995, I was 18, my parents had been separated for two years, and I was in my first year studying for a pointless communications degree. My dream was to become like Herald sportswriters Wynne Gray or DJ Cameron, high up in the booze-soaked press box at Eden Park on test match afternoons, my life dominated by sport and by writing about sport.

But I had, to some extent, cast the All Blacks out. I had been devastated by the appointment of Laurie Mains ahead of John Hart as coach three years before.

The announcement was made live on television at lunchtime on a weekday and I watched it at first with great anticipation and ultimately with the despair of a World Cup semifinal loss.

For Christmas the following year, I was given Straight From the Hart: The Career and Philosophy of a Rugby Revolutionary and I read it sadly, as a testament to what could have been.

I had grown up watching the Auckland team coached by John Hart, and the All Black team that flowed from that, win everything almost without cease for what felt like, and almost was, my whole life.

So for these and other reasons, I don't remember being particularly obsessed with the World Cup in 1995, until the semifinal, in which the All Blacks redefined attacking rugby by trouncing England, and that was when I felt rugby flow back to me.

I don't want this to be misinterpreted. I had always cared deeply about rugby. It just felt colourless and off-track during the Mains era. But with Jonah, with kickoffs to the wrong side of the field, and with Zinny's outrageous dropkicks, it felt like rugby rediscovered, like 1987 all over again.

The only feasible way we could have lost that tournament is if the whole team had come down with food poisoning.

I remember lying in my single bed after the final, at 3 or 4am, unable to sleep, and wondering how I was going to deal with this feeling every four years.

1999

The French team celebrate after beating New Zealand to win the Semi Final match of the Rugby World Cup 1999. Photo / Getty Images
The French team celebrate after beating New Zealand to win the Semi Final match of the Rugby World Cup 1999. Photo / Getty Images

In 1999, I was 22. I watched in a pub in Keswick, in England's Lake District, as the All Blacks lost their semifinal to France.

Afterwards, distraught, I walked the wet, cobbled streets in the early evening dark with an Australian woman I didn't know and can't remember meeting, who told me, "I'm not going to sleep with you."

I don't remember wanting that to happen. I don't think it could have. The pain was too intense.

I was thinking, "Here I am, a million miles from home, surrounded by people who don't care about this result, and I still can't escape this feeling."

A few months before, I had lost my job as a sports reporter on a daily newspaper when that daily newspaper had gone out of business - its owner crying in the pressroom as he told us we would be all done that afternoon.

I got a cheque for six grand out of that, but more importantly I was freed from the burden of the discovery that the job I had always wanted was not the job I wanted.

I had discovered that I was scared to talk on the phone in the newsroom in front of real journalists and I didn't know what to ask rugby coaches or players after their games.

Most of all, I had discovered that finding stories is really hard. I had only ever wanted to sit in the booze-soaked pressbox on test match afternoons.

My career choice had been a failure of imagination. But now it was over: sweet release. I drank the final drink on the tab that was put on for us at Headin' Home in East Tamaki.

It was almost certainly a Stella Artois, which was the fanciest thing I could imagine. I headed out into a world of complete freedom, with more money in my pocket than I had ever seen, and no understanding of freedom's burden.

2003

Kiwis in the crowd bemoan the All Blacks in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final played between England and Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Kiwis in the crowd bemoan the All Blacks in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final played between England and Australia. Photo / Getty Images

By 2003, I was 26 and in my first long-term relationship, and I wasn't sure about it. I had just moved back to New Zealand after nearly three years living in Singapore.

I had no friends here, no hobbies, no connections and I was editor of New Zealand Printer magazine. Life stretched out boringly and emptily in front of me. Rugby was my compass and salve.

I spent whole days at work reading articles about the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Unprecedented access to the endless internet content and comment, and the lack of management oversight at work, allowed me the full indulgence of my passion.

For these reasons, the tournament held me more completely than any previous World Cup and the resultant devastation when we lost to Australia in the semifinal was more complete.

There was the initial blast of despair as always, but there was the added power of its resonance in the empty echo chamber of my life. I resolved then to live a life that had more meaning than a four-yearly lurch towards the inevitable pain of a Rugby World Cup loss.

2007

All Blacks No 8 Rodney So'oialo after the All Blacks' 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss against France. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks No 8 Rodney So'oialo after the All Blacks' 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss against France. Photo / Brett Phibbs

By 2007, I was 30, still with the same woman, still in the same job, but deep into a philosophy degree with a heavy emphasis on discovering the meaning of life.

On the day of that year's World Cup final, which the All Blacks weren't in, I was finishing an essay entitled 'Why Portmore's 'revived' Total Principle Won't Work'.

In no way am I diminishing the value of a philosophy degree but I don't remember writing that essay or any of the points I made in it. I do remember being in a deep and serious state of depression around that time.

Over a few weeks, I wrote a series of emails, which I never sent or even addressed, but
which said things like "Please help. I don't know what to do.

This is getting ridiculous." These were not related to rugby, not at all, but I asked myself many times if I felt like my attempts to enrich my life had eased my World Cup devastation and I could never answer yes.

2011

The All Blacks celebrate after their 2011 Rugby World Cup win. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks celebrate after their 2011 Rugby World Cup win. Photo / Getty Images

By 2011, I was living in Mt Eden. The Rugby World Cup had never been closer. It had moved towards me even as I had tried to move away from it.

In the previous four years, I had got a postgraduate degree in philosophy, become engaged to my long-time girlfriend and then broken up with her, made the two biggest career moves of my life and met a woman far beyond my station, who was so well-adjusted and content with life, so sure of what she wanted and needed from life, that I felt either I would take her down with me or that she would save me.

It wasn't always clear which it would be. Either way, I thought she was probably the one. "What will happen to you if we lose?" she asked me over and over throughout 2011's terrifying tournament.

"I don't know," I said. "I can't say for sure." For the last 10 minutes of the final she went to our bedroom and put her head under the pillows while my whole body was in partial spasm in the lounge.

We were married in 2012. We had a daughter in 2013. Three months ago, we had another daughter. My life is now in service to these three people.

My every minute is now so thick with meaning and seemingly critical decisions that I find it difficult to imagine the world in which I once had the space to indulge day-long obsessions with the opinions of the Observer's rugby writer Eddie Butler.

Where rugby was once the most important part of my life, there's now no room for it to be anything other than a light interlude.

"What will happen if the All Blacks lose?" my wife will ask soon, and repeatedly. I will wake up the next morning, feel a brief frisson of lingering disappointment, and then all my attention will shift to getting my 2-year-old to eat breakfast, to stay off the coffee table and to change out of her pyjamas while she loudly and repeatedly says, "No daddyo!"

This is what I hope.