Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bark: Second rate

I'm back at work after a long weekend up in Edinburgh. I was up there to watch the Scotland vs New Zealand match, and overall, I had a fantastic time, despite a few gripes. The biggest of these was the fact that Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, decided to rest 13 first team players for the match, because he wanted to be sure that the team that will face Italy this Saturday will be fully fit and prepared. While I can understand why he did it that, I do not approve.

I did not spend 14 hours on the motorway driving a 830 mile round-trip to see Scotland's 2nd team play the All Blacks. Especially after I'd paid FOUR TIMES the price of an equivalent ticket for the Scotland vs Romania game that was held the previous week... Considering that the All Blacks put out a practically full-strength side (just two changes), it seems a little disrespectful that Hadden didn't put out the first team - not just disrespectful to the opposition, but to the fee-paying public as well. I know a lot of people came out of that match feeling short-changed, because Scotland never had a hope of even making a decent test match out of it by fielding such a weak side. I at least wanted to see Scotland attempt to try and win, not just conduct an exercise in damage control. If I was one of Scotland's first string of players, I'd be pretty pissed off as well, because you don't get to the chance play against the best side in the world very often, so it was a missed opportunity for them, too.

New Zealand clearly weren't impressed with Scotland's team selection policy either and gave them the "We're really going to fuck you up" Kapa O Pango Haka. I'd never seen this one before, and even from the top of the South stand, we could hear them over the crowd. When you're standing ten metres away, it must be unsettling as hell. It definitely had an effect, because Scotland were absolutely GASH. It's not even a case of New Zealand making them look bad, because even the mighty All Blacks were having a bit of an off-day. They scored a few really beautiful tries, but the midfield was littered with handling errors - dropped balls, knock-ons, and the like. The New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter, was having a bad day with the boot - he missed more kicks than he scored, but that was nothing compared to his opposite number, poor old Chris Paterson. Paterson had an absolute shocker: he fluffed an early drop-goal attempt and and it just got worse from thereon. He couldn't find touch to save his life and his distribution wasn't much better. It was a relief when he went off injured - I'd never been happier to see Dan Parks, and I think he's rubbish. Scotland never looked like scoring and the only consolation was that at least when South Africa shut out England, England were playing their first team...

I did enjoy the game (despite the 40-0 hammering) as Carter, Richie McCaw and Doug Howlett, three of my favourite players, all got on the scoresheet, but it wasn't half the test match it would have been if Scotland had put out a full-strength side. Still, the atmosphere was fantastic - everyone was really friendly and in good spirits. I've never been in such a small place with so many people in it (the attendance was just short of sixty-five thousand), but it didn't have any of that thinly-veiled atmosphere of menace you get with football crowds. Supporters from both sides mixed freely with each other and neutrals, and everyone seemed determined to have a good time. After the match when everyone was walking back into town, rugby balls were being pinged about, twenty to thirty feet in the air, across roads, bouncing off walls, cars and coaches, to the soundtrack of cheers - or boos when a kick was particularly wayward and ended up on a roof or in a tree. Most of the locals seemed to be in the spirit of things, except for one especially dour Edinburgh matron, who was distinctly unimpressed when a rugby ball landed on the top of her car. She immediately got out, pouted like a supermodel sucking a lemon, and looked around indignantly for a few seconds before climbing back in the car, getting out her mobile phone and dialing 999... as I walked past her car I read her lips and saw that she was asking for the police. Like they were going to be interested or would be able to do anything about it.

"So, it was someone wearing a New Zealand shirt? Well, that narrows it down. To about 40,000 people..."

There was also some time for some sightseeing on the Saturday before the match, so I took Eugenie (my girlfriend's cousin) and Seb (her boyfriend) on a Project Gotham Racing 2 tour of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, they've closed off Princes Street to everything but taxis and buses, so we couldn't take the car to try and beat any lap times, but we had fun looking around the city, which is rather nice - it was my first (non-virtual) visit to Edinburgh. The farmers market they had was brilliant - I had my first buffalo burger there, and it was TASTY. Seb and I also tried the wild boar burgers as well; two burgers in the space of 100 yards might seem excessive for some, but these things have to be done, you know...

Finally, BIG THANKS to Keza, Alex and Steve for putting us up (and putting up with my snoring, which Alex generously described as "adorable" - I think he might have been being ironic. Possibly...) - we had a great time, especially with the four-player Bomberman and Meteos sessions. Also, thanks to Keza and Alex's inspiration, my Animal Crossing town tune is now the opening few bars of the Robocop theme. How awesome is that, eh? SUPER-AWESOME.
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