In the last ten minutes of the Rugby World Cup final between the Springboks and the All Blacks, I was in tears. Not just the kind of delicate welling up you might see during the anthem on a normal game day. I’m talking full blown sobbing convulsively into the shoulder of a strange man next to me. There may have been some hyperventilating. The friend I was actually at the game with had buggered off to pace his own stress away, the people seated in front of me kept turning around to check on me, and the poor man I was crying on kept trying to reassure me that everything was going to be fine, and we were absolutely, definitely going to win. Even when we did, in fact, win, I couldn’t stop. I cried so much, I thought I was going to throw up right there – even though earlier that day, I’d navigated the leafy streets around my Parisian hotel, and the language barrier, to buy anti-nausea medication. I was that nervous about the game. It’s ridiculous.
A few days after the final, another friend pointed out that actually choosing to put my rugby-anxiety-ridden self in the high stress environment of the cauldron that is the Stade de France, when I could have just watched from the relative safety of home, was perhaps not the sanest option. And he’s right (he usually is, unfortunately), being in the stadium was, and always is, emotionally charged beyond belief. Watching at home, or even in the pub, where you’re not completely immersed in the experience is certainly not as tense. It’s also not as wonderful, which he also knows. This World Cup has been more stressful than most. Even Discovery was dishing out Vitality points for our elevated heart rates while the Springboks were serving up one-point victories. I don’t think I slept a full night for the duration of the tournament, and I’m pretty sure I look older than I did at the beginning of September. I’ve joked that I need to care less, that maybe rugby and I should call it a day, and it is a joke, because that relationship is forever, but I do sometimes wonder why we do this to ourselves…
But then there’s the absolute all-encompassing euphoria of seeing the team we love so wholeheartedly win the World Cup for the fourth time. The thrill of being in the stadium for that moment. Of seeing your tears of relief and joy reflected on the faces of fellow fans. The singing in the streets outside the stadium, and in the station, and on the train, until our voices are hoarse and even the people who have no idea what we’re singing about are smiling and dancing with us. The moments when it hits us again and we turn to each other with gleeful grins, and shouts of WE WON!! The scenes in South Africa that bring us to tears again and again, as the nation welcomes our favourites home at airports and in the streets, and the players just keep connecting us all in ways we didn’t think were possible. This team. This team.
And so, even though they sometimes put us through the wringer, in the end, there’s no walking away. The week of the final, I cracked open a fortune cookie to see a rather apt message – “stay positive and win.” Realistically, we obviously won’t win every World Cup. We won’t even win every game. There will be agony sometimes. But if we can stay in this moment, stay positive about this game, this team, and this country we love, there will be ecstasy too.