Monday Blues

The players stood in a circle, the way netballers do after the game, and everyone in the stands got to their feet. We wanted to. A minute's silence, it was a little thing we could do.

Sonny Bill was in Christchurch, helping, and we were at the rugby because life goes on, it's important that it does. Life, which is emptier now, because of the 50 people who have died and all the other things we lost when we lost them. Like innocence. Like the belief that we were different, that we did not have this kind of thing hiding among us.

But life is also fuller. We've discovered some things about ourselves. We do care, so deeply. Love, aroha, compassion, kindness. They really do bring us together.

Advertisement

Then they kicked off, there was some dumb penalty and up stepped Martybanks, the Highlander Martybanks. No one ever calls him Banks, or even Marty. It's one word, Martybanks, and he's a player whose only reason to be in the team seems to be that everyone likes him.

Then we discovered another reason: Martybanks kicked a long-range goal. He kicked six goals in all and didn't miss a single one. That's something no Blues player can do.

The good thing about a small crowd is that we're there because we really want to be. High head count of rugby tragics. Not many people who'd turned up because hey, Friday night at the rugby, who doesn't have a good time what that happens?

Nobody thought that would happen. I didn't meet anybody all week who expected that. The Highlanders were going to whip our proverbials.

Then the Blues did a bit of rampaging and broke the Highlanders' line and broke it again and suddenly Rieko Ioane had the ball, still with 40 metres to go, and he was gassing it, just gassing and stepping, he made a complete fool of Waisake Naholo, the also-an-All-Black marking him, turned him inside out and upside down so he didn't know where to look as Ioane sped past to score. Woo-hoo.

Then Ioane did it again, running hard and busting tackles off a wonder-break by Melani Nanai, the other high-stepping super-speedster in the team. Rieko Ioane scored four tries last game and now he's scored two in this game and that means he just scored six in a row. Obviously a world record, and you know what? Martybanks can't do that.

Not that I was surprised. Three weeks ago I advised Blues' coach Leon MacDonald, via this column, to make the team pass the ball to Ioane and Nanai. He heard me and it happened, hence those four tries. So MacDonald called me in. They had a bye last week but right through the last fortnight I've been working with him and the boys, refining the moves.

What? It's obviously true. That special thing Ioane did that made Naholo look like a paper bag blown about in the wind, that was my idea.

They went into the break 15-13, nothing in it. Fans rushed for beers and we all hunkered down. We were anxious. We were jittery. Was this fair? Winning's great and losing is a thing, but to be suspended, strung between hope and despair before the ropes are slashed and we fall with all our hopes into the ravine, did we really come for this? The old, cruel familiar?

Craig, who was sitting behind me with his mates, all of them rugby tragics even more tragic than me, treated me to a long dissertation about how good Eden Park is. That gave me the opportunity to say I worked for the Herald and was going to be writing about that very thing, albeit with a slightly different perspective, in the Saturday paper in just a couple of weeks.

He promised to look out for it, the way you do when it's more important to be friendly than tell the absolute truth.

They started the second half. There were dark moments: rookie first-five Harry Plummer kicked the ball in the wrong direction and when it came down two Blues missed both the ball and the Highlander who didn't miss the ball, and he sprinted away to score.

That was Tevita Li, a racehorse of a player who used to be in the Blues, and it really hurt.

Plummer was pulled off two minutes later and lo and behold, Melani Nanai scored a try himself. With 20 minutes to play it was 23 all, and every Blues fan knows there's always break-your-heart scoring in the last 20 minutes.

All through the stands, grown men were shouting, aimlessly but with great intent. Hold on to the ball! Kick it! There's a man with you, pass the damn thing, damn you! They say worse things, too.

I got a text from a mate who said he was at home hiding behind the couch, shrieking, and I looked around and that's exactly what was happening, everyone in the flipping stadium was hiding behind the couch, all of us in an agony of expectation and despair, shrieking. Even the children.

Craig and his mates were all at the players, we weren't sitting close to them or anything, but they were all in with Go wide! Go tight! Get in there you moron! and it worked, the Blues rumbled and rumbled and there was a twist and a turn and an outstretched arm that came from nowhere and that's a try to Patrick Tuipulotu. Paddy you genius.

Reckon we called that one home, said one of Craig's mates, cool as.

True that, they'd be rubbish without the fans. It's 30-26 with five minutes to go. Otere Black, on for Plummer, kicks a long-range penalty and its 33-26 and we should just stop this for a moment, honour the moment, because nobody in the history of the Blues since, I don't know, Grant Fox, has kicked a long-range penalty to secure the game and I think the sound you could hear when Black kicked that goal was a kind of moaning.

Happiness moaning.

We won. Walking away in the crowd afterwards, what normally happens is pretty much nothing. A slow silent mass of pretended indifference, people self-trained to think about other things, plodding our way towards the railway station, into the night.

But on Friday it was thrilling. I saw middle-aged people leaping, rushing across to each other, mouths agape. OMG OMG OMG.

We are the people of hope, as I've always said. And now, two wins in a row, we are also the people with certain expectations. Go the Blues.

Simon Wilson is following the Blues all season.