RW's Will Macpherson joins the All Blacks on a bus tour of London
The Rugby World Cup means something different to us all, and offers each of us something different too; as fans and lovers of the game, that might include the chance to watch new players, to visit new cities and countries or to make new friends, perhaps.
That goes for the players, too. Take Beauden Barrett, who is looking pretty chuffed with life as he cruises round London on a vintage Routemaster Bus on a picture perfect September Saturday morning, in the company of a couple of New Zealand team-mates, a few lucky prize winners, a camera crew and a face full of dictaphones. Sponsor events – this one courtesy of AIG – don’t have to be a chore after all, it seems.
Barrett is looking quite so satisfied because he’s recalling the last World Cup, since which he’s come a pretty long way. “I’m seeing the other side of the World Cup coin,” he tells Rugby World. “This is the first one I’ve played in, but four years ago I was 20 and travelling around New Zealand in a mini van with a few mates, being a fan and going to loads of games. Now it’s pretty cool to be playing at places like Wembley and the Olympic Stadium, checking out London and going to places I’ve never been before like Newcastle.”
Sam Whitelock has enjoyed the different pace of life on his first overseas World Cup jaunt, too. For these All Blacks, being away from home is relevant. New Zealand is sparsely populated, and they’re the hottest ticket in town wherever they go. As the bus passes through London, it stops a couple of time for photo opportunities – at St Paul’s Cathedral, at the London Eye and so on – and while they are an object of interest – although perhaps more for the camera crew than the individuals – they are hardly mobbed.
“At the last World Cup we were at home and we pretty much couldn’t go anywhere because everyone recognises us! We do get recognised here which is cool, because it’s often by people who have travelled across the world to watch us and their countries play. The atmosphere is similar to 2011 in that everyone has got into the tournament and the vibe is awesome. That’s what the World Cup should be about.
“The sheer number of people who have watched us in all these massive stadiums is awesome. It’s cool to meet some of them and find out why they love the game, what their story is. Then there’s the stadiums themselves: you’ve got all the footballing history at Wembley, then the 2012 Olympics and all the amazing moments and world records that were broken there too. That’s pretty cool.
“We’ve been lucky, I mean we’re going to Cardiff now, and the atmosphere is always incredible there. Then it’s up to Newcastle after that. I’ve never been up there, and I don’t think many of the other boys have too. It’s another different experiences, and a new accent too. I’m not sure we’ll be able to understand them, but they probably don’t understand us either so that’s fine!”
Few people know as more about World Cups than Keven Mealamu. The hooker has been to four across four different countries, tasting success in 2011, heartbreak in 2003 and humiliation in 2007. This one, he reckons, is pretty hot: “The awesome thing about London is that it’s such a crazy big city with so much going on is that a massive event like this can just seem like another day in the life, another thing in the city. We’ve stayed in a different part of town from normal, which is cool. We’ve had some time to explore the city.
“The crowds have been enormous, and people are here from all over the world. Every tournament has a different feel and this one is bubbling nicely.”
Beauden Barrett, Keven Mealamu, Waisake Naholo, Sam Whitelock enjoyed some down time in the capital and took in the iconic London views with sponsor AIG.