Flying to New Zealand for the final fortnight of the Rugby World cup is a bit like walking into the keepsake-crammed house of a collector; the obsession seems a bit unhealthy but you can't help admiring it just a little.
And it underlines how the hosts simply have to lift the trophy on home soil again, after a wait of 24 years.
It's as if the end of the world is nigh and the government wants to give advice to as many people as possible. That is, if a dearth of rugby was globally fatal and the only anecdote was posters of the All Blacks' players every few meters.
And I'm surprised that I'm surprised.
I've visited New Zealand several times before and it's love for the sport is well documented but now I am here - in rugby's most rugby-mad nation during rugby's biggest tournament - the "stadium of four million people" no longer seems an idle boast by World Cup organizers.
The mania hits you before you even reach the country.
On the plane, my in-flight entertainment included a documentary called "Cup of Dreams" – an emotional journey, charting New Zealand's love for its rugby team through the eyes of one young man and his relationship with his father.
In neighboring Australia, Sydney airport was plastered with adverts and an entire store selling only official World Cup merchandise.
"Just wait until you get to Auckland", joked the cabin crew on my connecting flight. They weren't wrong. Even the New Zealand airline's safety video has a rugby theme and features several All Blacks.
On the drive into town from the airport, as well as the official marketing, there are flags bearing the All Blacks’ famous silver fern and home-made slogans plastered on homes and businesses – from a simple “Go the AB’s” to an animated dot matrix sign reading, “Ready Quade? Cos Richie is” – a reference to the threat that New Zealand’s captain and back row forward Richie McCaw will pose to Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper in Sunday’s semifinal.
The sheer visibility factor of the tournament even tops what I witnessed in Mumbai, earlier this year, during the Cricket World Cup (although the celebrations when India won will be hard to beat).
On the surface, New Zealand is gripped by a kid-at-Christmas excitement but bubbling beneath that is a ripple of fear. For the sponsors and marketers, it's the fear of missing a commercial bonanza but for the fans it's deeper than that.
If the All Blacks lose their nerve again and don't lift the Webb Ellis trophy, the supporters’ dream collection – of a second World Cup triumph on home soil – will vanish, possibly forever.
One worrying factor is that All-Blacks doesn't have a truly close match in RWC2011 yet. When it goes down to the wire, never know how ABs cope with that. Elites show their greatness most when pushed into a corner, and Wallabies showed it against boks last week. New Zealand has great culture of rugby, their passion & atmosphere is simply great, but sometimes high expectation also drives players into the corner, sadly. hope it will not ruin times of ABs life.
The All Blacks will not choke, I guarantee it. They are so good I don't see how this is even possible. The fans won't have to worry about that, it's not going to happen.
agree with sachiko. no close games but with the relatively unknown that is aaron cruden at 10, i think we will produce a good performance. if not, then there will be riots in auckland and we have to wait 4 more years. do it for chch!!
If Australia doesn't win its third Rugby World Cup, I think it would be great for the game if either Wales or France lifted the Ellis Cup on Kiwi soil.
The wallabies showed nothing against the boks as qouted
by sachiko, if thats all they have the ab's have nought to worry about, I would be far more worried about being up against the boks than the wallabies in the semi final.
Spot on mate, yis.
doesn't anyone think that France can win?
Read my lips: NZ 20, France 12.......
The WC has been tarnished by the corrupt Kiwis IRB officilas and refs.
The play-offs were contrived to give the AB's a clear path to teh final, and a weak opposition in it.
Allez Les Bleus!!
NZ showed last weekend that the game is won with the front 5 and France will feel the pain in the Final
A few of your commentators got it right. The Springboks are by far the best team at the world cup. They should have beaten the Wallabies by at least 20 points. They would also have beaten the all blacks and won the cup.
I'm looking forward to the world cup final . Being a kiwi I will be having a sleepless night on Saturday night and hoping the All Blacks can finally win the rugby world cup after 24 years. We have waited so long for this opportunity and I hope the All Blacks bring their A game on Sunday night.
There no use saying who should or shouldn't be in the final. The plain fact is it is the All Blacks vs France. France although losing a couple of games leading up to the final will be dangerous and united.
The All Blacks will be ready for them, no complacency will be evident, just a passion to bring the Webb Ellis trophy home to New Zealand for the next 4 years.
All Blacks have not actually got into second gear at the 2011 RWC-watch out for a white washing-unfortunately France may suffer their greatest defeat in the RWC history.
The only downside is it would be the sweetest revenge if the ABs where playing their arch enemies Australia in the final-Go the mightly ABs
this time it has to be all blacks
Alex Thomas is a sports correspondent and anchor with CNN International, working out of the company’s London office. As well as reporting from the 2009 and 2010 Champions League finals, in Rome and Madrid, Alex has been CNN’s man on the ground at the Wimbledon and French Open tennis Championships, Vancouver Winter Olympics and the football World Cup in South Africa. He has also interviewed world sports celebrities like Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Padraig Harrington, Arsene Wenger, Ji-Sung Park, Michael Ballack and Serena Williams.