A year ago today – triumph and tragedy

It began as a day like all others as the sun climbed over the Crete hills to the east – except that we were up early enough to enjoy the sunrise and completely confuse our girls when we gave them each a pat on the head and departed for Siena. We were cutting it fine and the mood in the car was sombre. There was none of the usual banter as we headed along the SR2 into Siena.

Thankfully we didn’t get stuck behind any of the local autobuses on the way and as we drove through the Porta Tufi and into the old city to park we had 10 minutes left for the walk to the Campo.

It was Rugby World Cup final day. Half a world away two teams were about to go head to head to determine who were world champions – our might All Blacks or the unpredictable and dynamic French.

We arrived at the bar in time to find a seat amongst the small but growing number of New Zealand fans and the far more numerous French fans. We ordered our usual RWC colazione (breakfast) – cappuccino and tea, followed by white wine and birra. The discipline required to start drinking at 8am was something we had mastered over the preceding 6 weeks as we had watched the pool games, the quarter finals and the semi finals. In fact we were well known in the bar and our order arrived at the table the same time we did.

The game was engrossing. What everyone expected to be an easy All Black victory became an arm wrestle with the French doing what they do best – being unpredictable and playing ten times better than they did in the early rounds of the tournament – and with 15 minutes to go the score was 8-7 to the All Blacks. The remained of the match was agonising with neither team able to get in the killing blow.

The tension in that little bar in Siena was palpable. The Kiwis had gone quiet while the French supporters were vocal as the underdogs refused to roll over.

Victory for the All Blacks, when it came, was more relief than triumph.

After congratulations all round we left the bar and stepped out into the sunlight of the Campo. We headed to our usual bar – Al Mangia – to celebrate with a glass or two of Prosecco.

At Al Mangia the talk was not of rugby but of motorcycling. Motorcycle ace and local hero Marco Simoncelli had died after falling off his bike in the Malaysian MotoGP earlier that morning and the bar patrons were noticeably affected. Simoncelli was just 24 years old.

It was, it turned out, a day of triumph overshadowed by tragedy.

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