Rugby World Cup
Greg Growden sees nothing but Dan Carter and All Blacks in London
Greg Growden (somewhere in the All Blacks-free zone between London and Cardiff)
September 19, 2015
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Jet-lag can really warp the senses. There I was hurtling towards the centre of London on the Tube from Heathrow a few days ago when I was at last able to refocus and staring straight back at me was Dan Carter.

What?

On a Tube station advertising hoarding was Carter defiantly fending off another marauder. Ditto the next Tube station and the one after that.

Carter. Carter. Carter. Fending. Fending. Fending.

The following day a stroll towards Trafalgar Square in search of my land legs, and once again Blick Blick Blick surrounds me. Just a few hundred metres away from Nelson's Column, a sports pub has devoted itself to everything All Black. There were huge photos of All Blacks fans, players. The theme revolved around how New Zealand are standing as one to convince all that nobody should ever dispute their position at the top of the world rugby pecking order.

Try to get away from it all in Soho, and those in the New Zealand national dress - the All Blacks jersey - constantly confront you with those fetching matching black trackie dacks. They pound the footpaths proud, defiant. That so distinctive, persuasive jersey gives them a real identity. The stance, the pose is serious. You have to shake yourself. Am I that delirious? Is that really Big Ben I can see in the far distance? Or am I actually in the heart of Auckland, and they have built a stunning replica of the London landmark at the Harbour end of Queen Street.

Such disorientation can happen when you are such a dominant brand. The eighth Rugby World Cup is supposed to pushing the code's international flavour, but in London the All Blacks are clearly the prime power source. Everyone, absolutely everyone in the British media, is tipping New Zealand to become the first country to win the World Cup back-to-back. The press pundits are frantically trying to outdo each other in how much ooze they can use to describe Richie McCaw and co.

© Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Before the World Cup opener, many were pushing England, with their home territory advantage, as being a considerable threat to the All Blacks. But that vain hope has evaporated considerably after the home nation's colourless performance against the flighty Fijians on Friday night. The Cup is basically New Zealand's to lose. The other teams are mere irritations.

To convince myself that I wasn't in the Shaky Isles and in some sort of 2011 World Cup time warp, I headed to Cardiff on Saturday to ensure the other nation with a rabid rugby fervour was properly flying the flag and bringing a bit of balance to this tournament.

And with it came relief from that big black blob, that jersey, that banner, those posters, that obsession, that 'we're going to show you Aussies' carry on that has driven us bonkers ever since the Wallabies handed something called the Bledisloe Cup to them several centuries, or was it only decades, ago?

But again it was disorienting.

Argentina ready for All Blacks
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Cardiff usually is a whirling, swirling sea of red dominated by rugby-obsessed locals who treat the Welsh jersey as their second skin. Instead Cardiff on this Saturday match day had been taken over entirely by the Irish. All you could see in every direction was green.

It was as if Dublin's Temple Bar and Grafton Street had been moved holus-bolus south-east across the Irish Sea. So all you could hear was raucous laughter and reveling. For their opening game against Canada, Ireland had made Cardiff their home away from home.

The London trains were overflowing with those who hailed from all parts of Ireland. The conversation was hardly ever rugby. It was instead about where they were going to meet up with their cousins, brothers, ma's, pa's, long lost relatives, what bars they were going to visit before kick-off, and more importantly what late night venues were on their agenda after full-time. Where they were going to spend the night would be worked out later, far later.

As our train arrived in Cardiff, the cheer went up when the 'Irish army' saw the centre of the city was swarming with green. Arms were rained in triumph. "Good craic beckons" was the call.

This match, which as anticipated with Ireland playmaker Jonathan Sexton on song was over well before half-time, was really just an excuse for his country folk to indulge themselves in a really big night in a really wild party town. Just ask certain former Australian Test cricketers how dangerous Cardiff can be.

The Irish supporters were definitely thirsty by the end of this lopsided encounter, bellowing and whooping it up for the whole 80 minutes - even raucously cheering Canadian winger DTH Van Der Merwe to the line late in the game; the Irish understand the spirit, the bonhomie of rugby.

Then back out onto those crazy, frenetic Cardiff streets. Sheer mayhem. Most crucially there appeared to be no black trackie dacks in sight. Sheer bliss. The World Cup atmosphere has lifted.

Play ESPNfootytips Rugby World Cup Tipping

© Greg Growden (somewhere in the All Blacks-free zon

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