WELLINGTON, N.Z.—Lesson learned at the Rugby World Cup 2011:
When in possession of the butt ends of a loaf of bread and a nearly empty jar of Sanitarium Peanut Butter (the actual brand name of Kiwi peanut butter), this is what you do: You find the prettiest girl in the room and ask her if she'd like some. Don't mind the fact that she has a full plate of breakfast sitting in front of her. Good things will happen.
Kendra will happen.
A recent Thursday found your boys at Deadspin Down Under in a Wellington backpackers' hostel ahead of that night's USA vs. Australia Pool C matchup. More accurately, it found Benz comfortably sharing an eight-bunk room with snoring Frenchmen and a German with what had to have been clinical body-odor problems, and it found me passed out on a chair in the lounge, having had just enough free South African beer to lose my room key at some point between the entrance of the hostel and the fourth floor.
So while I lay unconscious, media credentials hanging off my neck, Benz was enjoying the restorative powers of peanut butter and manuka honey—enjoying them so much that he decided he wanted to share.
Bypassing the smelly Germans and the neck-chain-wearing Frenchmen, the ponytailed Austrians and the cig-rolling British teenagers, your unfailingly patriotic correspondent Chris Benz made for the American girl with the hair and the boobs and the fanny pack. I will describe this fanny pack for you. It was a red, white, and blue fanny pack, puff-painted with two hearts and her name, which we will not use here. We will instead call her Kendra.
Obvious to everyone but Chris, Kendra didn't need breakfast. But thus introduced, we found out she did need a place to stay after the game, not to mention a ride to the airport the next morning—two things we could offer. We were only too glad to write our phone number on her arm and make vague plans to meet either before or after or during the game. She bought a liter and a half of cider and headed out into town.
We headed to the South African supporters' lounge at the very posh Amora Hotel on the Waterfront, home of both the Argentine and South African rugby teams. We had somehow convinced representatives from RSA's Department of Sport that we were journalists, and therefore they welcomed us to use their lounge—free wi-fi, free lunch and dinner, and during games, an endless and also free supply of Castle Lager (official beer of the Springboks, South Africa's rugby team) and biltong, which is like beef jerky, but way better, and possibly made from wildebeest.
After hours of neither writing nor drinking—one of these activities is becoming rarer than the other—who strolls into our swanky home base? Kendra. Apparently we'd tried to impress her not only with our press passes but with our South African access. She'd been drinking since we last saw her, and she was in fine form, decked out in true California Gurl style—lowrider jeans, flip-flops (called "jandals" in this strange land), a tank top, and an American flag visor. After informing us as to her relative level of sobriety (low), she also mentioned the likelihood that a star-spangled spandex bikini would make an appearance at game time (high). We made plans to meet at the stadium.
* * *
This is the part of the article where we turn from proud supporters of American girls in American flag bikinis into proud supporters of the USA Eagles and serious(ish) rugby writers. Feel free to scroll down to the photos. But for those of you here for the rugby (hello former coaches), a brief (or not) dispatch from the USA-Australia game.
We arrived at Wellington Regional Stadium surprised by all the red, white, and blue in the crowd. Perhaps we shouldn't have been. Several times during our stay in New Zealand, Kiwis have informed us, nearly without prompting, that they support two teams: the All Blacks and anyone playing Australia. The rivalry between the two countries is akin to USA-Canada, with the Aussies playing the role of the mighty Americans, and the Kiwis in the part of their "eh?"-saying little brothers. That is, of course, if anyone in America actually gave a shit about Canada. So every neutral Kiwi in the crowd was an honorary American that night, and we were glad to have them. Wellington is also a big college town, and so many American undergrads were showing off their imported tailgating skills. We ran into an Elvis, various drunken Uncle Sams, and of course, Kendra, in the American flag bikini. We Yanks, both native and adopted, did ourselves proud that chilly night in Wellington. Real proud.
The boys on the pitch did the same for half an hour against the mighty Australian Wallabies, despite being huge underdogs. Having gotten the one we wanted against Russia, and mindful of the three days' rest before our last pool match against slightly more vulnerable Italy, the Eagles' coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, had changed 14 of the 15 starters run out in New Plymouth a week before. Meanwhile, the Aussies had something to prove after being well and truly beaten by Ireland. There was idle talk in the Wellington pubs of the Wallabies putting 100 points on the U.S. The prediction was met with only token resistance from your reporters.
Let's skip ahead to the 17-minute mark, when the U.S. began its most exciting passage of play so far this tournament. This second-choice side, up against the No. 2 team in the world, showed for a brief moment that it could control a game and compete with any team, anywhere.
It was here that tonight's captain, Tim Usasz, made the most of a busted play and pounced on a loose ball near the halfway line, breaking down the near touchline, untouched for a scamper of 30 meters. After that, the forwards kept possession, marching more across the field than down it. Fly-half Nese Malifa, seeing his first significant minutes of the World Cup, changed the angle of attack and dropped an inch-perfect cross-field kick from his right boot to the right touchline, into the arms of winger Colin Hawley, who rose to the ball like a wide receiver in the corner of the end zone. For the first time in this World Cup the back line showed some swagger and creativity, and it nearly ended in a famous and brilliant try. Only a heroic two-man tackle by Cooper and winger Drew Mitchell stopped Hawley from scoring.
Five meters out from the tryline, five meters from the right touchline, the U.S. continued to put the pressure on the Aussies, running the ball off the ruck through the forwards for 10, 12, 16 phases before swinging it back out to Nese at 10. This was the longest passage of sustained aggression the U.S. had shown with the ball in hand so far, and the Aussies were on the back foot. Malifa then changed it up again, dropping a cheeky grubber behind the Aussies, looking for Hawley again in the corner, only to be foiled by the quick hands of the truly exceptional Will Genia. It looked as if all the U.S. pressure would amount to nothing as the Wallaby captain shaped a clearance kick, but the charging Americans, refusing to give up, forced him to bring the ball down and he was tackled behind his own tryline. Five-meter scrum to the Americans, and chants of "U-S-A!" rang out again into the Wellington night.
The Aussies had gotten the best of the big boys up front at scrum time in the game's first 25 minutes. In fact, the U.S. scrum has been a weakness all tournament. The 16 men came together with that familiar grunt, the U.S. stood strong for a moment, and then the bigger and more experienced Aussies began to push them backward. A great hook by hooker (obviously) and freestyle rapper Phil Thiel got the ball quickly to the back of the scrum. Just before the physically superior Aussies drove the Eagles back over their own ball, No. 8 J.J. Gagiano reached in, and in one motion picked the ball from the back and darted down the short side, squeezing between the touchline and Australian No. 6 Elsom. Before the Aussies could react, he was over the line in a swan dive, and the Eagles had a famous try. Australia 10, USA 5.
The pro-America crowd went absolutely mad and all of a sudden the Eagles were within a score of the Wallabies. For a second, we all seemed to believe that something truly shocking and spectacular might just be possible. The boys were having fun out there—loose, even. Near midfield the U.S. got a penalty advantage, and Usasz again looked dangerous around the ruck. The Eagles were threatening. Another score looked on for just a moment as winger Kevin Swiryn found daylight inside the Wallaby 22. But No. 8 Wycliffe Palu came from behind and delivered a hit that not only crushed Swiryn, but any U.S. hopes for an upset.
Palu's shoulder crashed into the U.S. No. 11's ribs and the ball popped out. Swiryn looked like a quarterback who'd spent a half-second too long in the pocket. The white oval hung in the air for a long moment, and then took one hop straight into the arms of Australian flanker Rocky Elsom. Rocky immediately pointed his shoulders upfield, rampaging through the American defenders. The ball passed between three more pairs of hands, and Kurtley Beale touched down under the sticks. Just like that, the Eagles went from looking like tying the game or taking the lead to trailing 17-5, wind absent from sails. Some of the best USA Rugby this World Cup had come to an end. And for all money, so had the game. The rout was on.
* * *
Chris and I had more important duties in the stadium than watching the Australians pour in eight tries in the second half. (Which they did, including a natural hat trick by winger Adam Ashley-Cooper.) Between Pat McCabe's try in the 48th and AA-C's in the 54th, our shared phone rang. We don't have that many friends in New Zealand (or America), and the ones we do have should have known better than to call during an Eagles game, no matter how one-sided. Chris and I looked at each other, puzzled. Chris picked up the phone.
"Yeah, this is Chris and Dave's phone. This is Chris."
The he was quiet. For awhile. He got up from our press seats and walked to the concourse. He took his notebook out of his pocket. He scribbled.
After a few minutes, and another Australian try, he returned to our seats in the press box.
"What was that?"
"What about her?"
"That was Constable Ferguson."
"Constable. The cops."
"Kendra's in the drunk tank. She gave him our number. I think it's the only one she has. I had to assure him that we knew her and that she had a place to stay tonight. They want us to go get her out."
"But there are still 20 minutes left."
We both burst the fuck out laughing.
I can assure you, loyal Sin Bin readers, that we, Chris Benz and Dave Shireley, must be the only two accredited members of the World Rugby Media to be called in the middle of the match to bail a belligerent, barely clothed girl out of the Drunk Tank. You should be proud of us. We are. [Editor's note: For Kendra's version of events, please click here.]
But we are also members of the World Rugby Media, and appearances are important. So we stuck out the last five or so Australian tries. Full-time score: Australia 67, USA 5.
Drunk American Girls 1, Wellington Constabulary 1.
It could only be called a draw.
It was decided that Benz would go to the drunk tank, and I would go to the pressers. While I was nodding and taking notes and generally trying to fit with the Serious Rugby Journalists of the world, Chris was bailing Kendra out of the drunk tank. Finally freed, it wasn't long before she bolted Benz's responsible arms out onto the field and scored what was only the second U.S. try of the night. Nearly as impressive of Gagiano's, really.
Chris showed a lot of heart during the mixed-zone press session keeping her from bursting past security to talk to rugby players. Girl was nothing if not insistent.
We headed out of the stadium without further incident, briefly mentioning to Usi why we had to run. He's our boy, and he appreciated it. We bade him farewell with a handshake and a roll of our collective eyes and headed into the crowded Wellington streets.
We'd made the mistake of telling a more sober Kendra that we had a lead on where the Eagles would be headed after the match. And she wasn't going to go anywhere else. Though she'd now emptied an afternoon's worth of liquor onto the holding cell floor, she was no more appropriate, alternately yelling "I can't believe I missed the game! I can't believe I was in the drunk tank!" and "Go the Eagles" to anyone we passed who was dressed in Aussie colors.
We got to a Wellington drinking establishment that will remain nameless. Kendra ordered herself more cider. I ordered her water. While she was busy being distracted by the dudes at the bar she was distracting, I drank her cider and ordered her even more water. But whether it was the spandex, the drunk-tank adrenaline, or the afternoon's lubrication, she proved to be extraordinarily slippery, and we kept losing her, only to find her again chatting up an American in a panda suit, then another in a cowboy hat-flag cape combo. Then she would yell out, "Where are the Eagles?"
A few Eagles had in fact arrived, and as much as we would have liked to have shared a beer with the boys, some of whom were now openly referring to us as "The Deadspin Guys" (which is awesome), it was getting dangerous. I stepped out onto the patio and found our dear drunk Kendra in the lap of a large and easily 40-year-old Australian dude with hairy, wandering hands. It was time to go.
* * *
So I rang Hadyn, our Wellington journo friend, the closest thing New Zealand has to a hipster. He writes about rugby and beer, which is almost as cool of a gig as we have. The three of us were staying at his place that night, and Kendra and I were meant to leave for the airport at 5:15 the next morning. I was headed to Auckland to try to score New Zealand vs. France tickets. Benz was getting on a bus to go wild-boar hunting. It was already nearly 2 a.m.. Hadyn was, as could be expected, at the local trendy craft beer pub, an easy half block away. I gave Benz the heads-up, gathered Kendra's clothes, wrestled her from the creepy Australian and the two of us got the hell out.
One of us was severely underdressed for the occasion, but we got into the brew pub and I ordered a lovely Imperial IPA from our friends at Mike's Brewery in Taranaki, and a couple more waters for my countrywoman. There were roller-derby girls. One introduced herself as "Damned." It was awesome. We hid in the corner of the back booth that Hadyn had procured, as Kendra told her story for at least the 20th time that night. I still wasn't tired of hearing it.
After half an hour, I got up to piss and get another beer. When I returned, she was passed out in my corner of the booth, sound asleep, using her backpack as a pillow and her American flag visor as an eye mask—her spandexed American-flag ass pointing straight up to the ceiling. It was then I noticed for the first time, written in Sharpie on each ass cheek, the phone numbers of boys she must have met earlier in the evening. "Simon" and a number scrawled on one cheek, and even more incoherent scribbling on the other. I've never been prouder to be an American.
So dear friends, down Chris, plus a passed-out co-ed, we left the bar and went to the Amora to get our bags. For propriety's sake, I convinced Kendra to wait outside for the cab. Loaded with my backpack and Chris's, 100 pounds of gear in all, we piled into a taxi and headed for Hadyn's. We got her in the cab, out of the cab, and into bed (alone). When the alarm went off two hours later, she was still only wearing the American flag bikini. She threw on a pair of jeans and a fleece, and within five minutes we were in the cab on the way to the airport. She insisted she was good for the cab fare. As we pulled into the terminal, she reached into that famous fanny pack, and pulled out $7 for a $29 fare. I left her in the back seat, apologized to our cab driver, and went to the airport ATM. Cab fare paid, by me, we checked in for our flights. Somehow we'd made it.
I left her at security as she got on her flight to Queenstown, fanny pack and visor still in place, that infamous bikini still visible under her fleece. I hope she made it. I trust she did. God bless America.
Dave Shireley is a Deadspin rugby correspondent. He arrives in New Zealand with 1.5 TBs of downloaded rugby matches on three hard drives and with zero girlfriends. During his otherwise undistinguished career at Colorado College, he was a hooker for three years. That's a rugby joke.