Vibe is an informal noun meaning “a person’s emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated and felt by others”.
Logic is basically the opposite, a noun meaning “reasoning conducted or evaluated according to strict principles of validity.”
Karen Bond is the Web and Publications Editor for World Rugby. In the bustling Eden Park Media Center on the day of the World Cup final, she is no ostentatious presence. Tired photographers and overdressed TV presenters fight for this title.
Bond has been the editor of the World Rugby Yearbook since 2012. The Englishwoman knows more than anyone. It deals strictly with the logic of rugby. Her vibe is not that of a loner, but she is reserved and serious.
Bond tells me she thinks the Black Ferns will beat England. Why? “Just a hunch,” she said.
Logic suggests that it is impossible. England have won a world record 30 consecutive Test matches. The tournament’s most disciplined side have 714 more caps than New Zealand and won their last international against the Black Ferns 56-15 on November 7, 2021.
The Black Ferns vibe in 2021 was toxic. It was so bad that the only person in the country with the us and the mana to fix it was Wayne Smith.
“Professor” is the rarest combination of high IQ and high EQ. A master tactician with an obsessive work ethic, he makes ruthless appeals for the best of the collective. The dumping of veterans Black Ferns, Eloise Blackwell, Les Elder and Chelsea Semple before the World Cup would have come as a surprise to many.
However, Smith creates tremendous competition, confidence, empathy and passion in his players. He can quietly tap any rockstar on the shoulder to support his cause. Daniel Carter, Conard Smith and Sir Graham Henry are all friends of the Black Ferns 2022 – rugby royalty summoned in a frantic bid to save face.
In 2013 Smith helped guide the Chiefs to an unexpected Super Rugby title and observed:
“At the base, we wanted good buggers. We wanted more than just a cultural change – creating a champion team is essentially a spiritual act. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly ours.
“We looked for an identity and ended up honoring it. Character was important when selecting the team. We play for our people and our region, which we have traveled.
What is the difference between coaching men and women?
“The All Blacks, men, need to play well so they can be happy and enjoy life. Black Ferns, women, need to be happy and enjoying life to be able to play well,” Smith said.
If there was ever a moment to capture the mood of the Black Ferns World Cup campaign, it’s Stacey Fluhler’s margarine-melting smile.
In the 73rd minute, the Black Ferns were leading 29-31 when Fluhler picked up a daring kick from Theresa Fitzpatrick and then delivered an unlikely ground pass to the equally cheerful Ayesha Leti-I’iga. It was a try that ultimately won the World Cup. It took such rare courage that he ended Fluhler’s game with a buggered ankle.
Fluhler left Eden Park with an innocent, mischievous smile spread across his face. It was a welcome relief for the oven from mounting pressure, the opposite behavior of a hardened All Black. It unleashed a euphoric roar from worshipers.
Why are you smiling as you leave the field?
Trust your friends can do it. Joy of being part of a historic opportunity valiantly won in the face of historic institutional apathy. The 2022 Black Ferns make no apologies for speaking out. Smith told his team before kick-off that he loved them and was proud of them and just wanted to come out and play and be true to our DNA.
The DNA of the Black Ferns is that they’ve been great since 1998, the year they won their first World Cup. They play fast, dynamic, exciting, warm rugby coupled with a deep connection to Tikanga that values the importance of the land, the river, the mountain and the family you come from.
When Captain Ruahei Demant plays for the Black Ferns, she represents everyone in the small village of ?m?io. In New Zealand, everyone knows everyone. Lose and you copy it from the local Uber driver, win and you get a free beer at the pub. That pressure is still palpable and not so evident in a place like London where they have Big Ben.
The Black Ferns played terrible rugby in the final. Passes were dropped, tackles were missed, territory was obediently given up and restarts were horrendous. The only things that seemed likely to stop the rolling mauls were rubber chickens, hammers, foggers, speed bumps, another fuel tax, crusaders, and Willie Apiata VC.
But that didn’t matter. The Black Ferns are the antithesis of risk-averse England. That’s not to say England don’t have a soul, they’re a phenomenal rugby team with some truly wonderful players capable of thriving. However, the Red Roses were cold and calculated, like a villain in a sci-fi movie where the good guys uphold the aesthetics of rugby.
The Sky Tower looked like a UFO had landed above it on Friday, thick fog obscuring Auckland’s tallest landmark. It was the kind of day one associates with the dark chapters of Charles Dickens’ novels. Maybe if the final had been played that day, England would have won.
Saturday dawned bright and warm. It was ‘barbie’, ‘code’, ‘Long Whites’ and Six60 weather.
I’ve been assigned seat two in the media turbine. It was in a claustrophobic corner resembling a place where young smokers would try to hide in high school. Lovely volunteer Karen moved me to seat 11 with an open window and atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to strike up a brief friendship with Jonah Lomu through Rod Gabb, a die-hard rugby fan and quite a decent guy who did huge service at Wesley College where Lomu went to school. ‘school.
When Jonah passed away in 2015, I was asked to speak about that experience at a memorial service and was presented with a Wesley tie, one of my most treasured items. Only TV jocks and fishheads wear ties in rugby in New Zealand, so he was draped next to me within reach of friendly spectators outside.
When these fans were told about the history of the tie, they turned around and touched it as if Jonah was present.
A lot of good happened on the left wing when Jonah Lomu wore the All Blacks 11 shirt. His legend was made against England. Last night there was a lot of traffic in Lomu lane. Portia Woodman (the black fern that most closely resembles Jonah) was delusional with limited opportunities. Her replacement Ayesha Leti-I’iga is nicknamed “the denotator”. She is a freak of a finisher.
Anything wrong with contemporary play was caught late in the first half. England win a penalty maul. They kicked the ball and maimed again, gaining an advantage. In a rare display of expansion, England stretched the game from touchline to touchline. On uncharted ground, England threw an unusually risky pass which Renee Holmes leapt and galloped 80 yards to score the greatest ‘crowd try’ ever. The official referee called him back. Typical. What happened next ? Another rolling maul try for England. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Wasn’t the vibe, but that’s okay.
The vibe on Saturday was all about being bold. It was about daring to be different, taking a punt and loving it. It was a spiritual connection to a style of rugby that Kiwis can identify with.
As for Ian Foster, he has the charisma of an insurance agent. We don’t hate the All Blacks, we just don’t identify with him on the same level as Smithy. The All Blacks vibe seems austere and mumbled compared to the refreshing audacity and Ahora of our Wahine Toa. Even grumpy white men smiled at this World Cup, their frustrations subdued perhaps by the large number of mums, wives and children in attendance.
Larrkin’s streak in Smithy’s workout. The 45kg computer that accompanied the All Blacks to the 1999 World Cup. ‘The Dojo’ gave the Crusaders an early advantage. The best Kiwi rugby coaches have always had an eccentric character element.
Joanah Ngan-Woo’s roster theft was all bravado, with the call for competition coming from the coach’s box. Perhaps Smith had a flashback to Mark Connors, the Wallaby who ruined his All Blacks head coaching career in 2000. That day the rival jumped faster.
Auckland has been stuck in a punitive 107-day lockdown while the rest of the country has largely gotten away with it. How good was it to see strangers high fives and black people slap each other, then find out they know someone who knows the person next to them?
England if you want to win the World Cup at Eden Park, you have to understand the atmosphere better. It’s not an exact science but it involves more than a rolling maul.
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