Zinzan Brooke and his Rugby World Cup 2019 predictions
PUBLISHED: 10:26 24 September 2019
This month heralds the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Paul Thomas talked to former All Blacks legend and Windsor and Holyport stalwart Zinzan Brooke about his famous drop goal, playing at the highest international level and which Home Nation might be in with a chance of lifting the trophy
Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but in rugby it's points that count, or is that pints?
For one ex-rugby international with one of the best pedigrees in world sport, three points from his right boot will be remembered for a very long time.
Zinzan Brooke, the former New Zealand Number 8 - whom ex-England Captain Will Carling listed in The Telegraph in 2007 as the eighth best player the world has ever seen - has a beer named after him in honour of the finest drop goal in World Cup history. Called Zinzan's Drop, it's made by Windsor & Eton Brewery.
But it is that famous 47-metre drop goal against England in the World Cup semi-final in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1995 that ranks as one of the tastiest moments in match play.
Of course, the South Africans would eventually upstage Zinzan's tour de force by winning the final on home soil. Even in the semi, it was four tries by Jonah Lomu that did the damage, demolishing England to put New Zealand through to meet the Rainbow Nation hosts. But it was Zinzan who stole the headlines with his dramatic drop goal.
More than two decades later, memories of that moment are still strong, and why wouldn't they be?
Zinzan, 54, who used to live in Windsor and both trained and played for Windsor RFC after his international retirement, says: "Windsor Rugby Club is special. Look at the backdrop; the walls of the castle. Plus it's very family orientated, friendly, lively and well run. There are some good dads and others who, like me, are all volunteers within the game, adding to the Club ethos."
And that goal?
"My brother, Robin, with whom I was lucky enough to be playing in our national team, put up a Garryowen (high kick) and the ball was collected by Will Carling, who sliced his kick back to us. The ball bounced just by the halfway line near to the side of the pitch and sat up for me.
"I thought to myself: 'How can I upstage Jonah?' I knew I could do it, so I just did. I knew the kick was going straight through the sticks. Jonah scored four tries, but everyone remembers that drop goal."
England were defeated 45-29, but in the final South Africa beat the All Black favourites 15-12 to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup: a triumph immortalised in the Clint Eastwood film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar.
Zinzan, who now lives in Holyport, Berkshire, with his wife, Alison - a fellow Auckland Kiwi - and their six children, says: "South Africa were worthy winners and for me it was a fitting outcome.
"It changed the face of sport as it galvanised and crystallised a nation which, until recently before, had been banned from international competition. Now it was embracing a new life, a new way, trying to rid itself of apartheid and injustice.
"Nonetheless we wanted to win. We didn't just turn up to let history develop. But it was their day. That's sport - but I know none of the team can watch the film."
So, Zinzan is perfectly placed to comment on this month's Rugby World Cup in Japan and the possible fortunes of the Home Nations.
Zinzan, who owns his own construction recruitment company called Number 8, says: "It's New Zealand's to lose, but there are four or five other teams in the mix, so for the first time in a long time it could be up for grabs. There is a high possibility that one of the teams that have not won it before could lift it.
"Of course Japan are hosting the tournament and they have caused some upsets in the past, but to all intents and purposes it is on neutral territory. Even so it's great for Japan as a nation as the game needs to be spread across the Asian continent and it's good for rugby, so they may well pull off another upset.
"As it's on neutral ground for the main teams, it's going to come down to internal belief. There's no advantages or disadvantages, mental preparation is vital.
"I'm pleased it's in a totally different location for everyone. Japan is not the home of rugby, so for me it comes down to New Zealand, England, Australia, Wales or France. There could very well be a France-Wales final."
In the group stage of the tournament, England are in Pool C and will have to deal with France and Argentina. "England know what they are doing, but Argentina won't be a pushover and France could easily turn up and cause a stir, so watch this space, but England should get through in top slot, even though they crashed out of their own World Cup to Wales at Twickenham in 2015," says Zinzan.
Scotland and Ireland are both in Pool A, alongside Japan who, on home turf, might just catch one of the two Home Nations out, or both. "Ireland should do it, but weren't sparkling in the Six Nations and it will be difficult for Scotland," says Zinzan.
As we went to press, Wales were Grand Slam champions and officially the second best side in the world behind the All Blacks, and a staggering 7-1 in the betting odds as fourth favourites to lift the title behind New Zealand, England and Ireland. That's a good bet, especially as they have just Australia as the major hurdle in their Pool D. Fiji, Uruguay and Georgia should be swept aside and the Red Dragons have become used to beating Australia in recent times.
Zinzan was adamant that this could be the nation to keep a close eye on. "Wales will qualify," he insists. "They need to rest some senior quality players for the minor games, be confident and in the right frame of mind.
It seriously bodes well for Wales.
I was with Warren Gatland, their head coach, for a charity golf match recently and it's all about keeping their feet on the ground after winning 14 games on the spin, and clinching the Grand Slam. If they are confident, it just might work for them."
The relish is palpable. For Zinzan, rugby is something in the veins: dangerous, skilful, aggressive, but not violent; an art form mixing cunning with bravery.
As the legendary former Cardiff and Wales outside half-turned BBC broadcaster Cliff Morgan said: "It's the mixture of opera, ballet and murder." Cliff was in both teams that beat the All Blacks twice in 1953, the last time Wales did beat them, so it will be a tall order if they get to meet this time out.
Zinzan says: "It's one of the last gladiatorial sports, like motor racing. Going to rugby is like going to the Colosseum in Rome. Obviously the game has developed from the amateur sport it was when I started playing, but even though the approach is now highly professional, the principles are still the same. As a result, it still attracts the same people, but now with a wider audience as well."
And what does Zinzan regard as the highlight of his glittering career that saw him don the All Blacks jersey no fewer than 100 times?
"My debut, of course, when I scored a try against Argentina, aged 21, in the 1987 World Cup," he smiles. "Before winning the tournament. What could possibly match the pleasure of wearing your country's jersey for the first time? Then going on to win the World Cup itself? It just can't be beaten… and that drop goal, of course."
And this month's tournament? He says: "I am looking forward to seeing one of the best World Cups there might be. This could be the year for a new name on the Webb Ellis Trophy."
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