by Facundo Arrizabalaga
As I was waiting for my train to head to the final of the Rugby World Cup 2015, I made eye contact with a family standing on the platform. They were all wearing Australian T-shirts, were extremely friendly, so we got chatting. I told them I was a photographer for epa heading to cover the final, that I was from Argentina, and had covered the two previous games of the Wallabies. They seemed to know a lot about Rugby so I said to myself, I’d better say something interesting, otherwise I will look like a fool. “I think you are going to win tonight because you have these two amazing guys, Hooper (Michael) and Pockock (David) and together they are magical”. There was an awkward moment of silence and the man in the centre of the group (David) smiling with pride, and reaching his hand to his chest said “Thank you”. I looked surprised and all of a sudden they all burst out with laughter, “Michael (Hooper) is his son” said the man on the right of the group “and she is his mum!”. It was an incredible moment. As the train moved along, they were scanning through the pictures on my laptop.
The opening night
18th September 2015, was the opening game. It was a beautiful warm summer’s night and in South West London the atmosphere was static. England against Fiji sold out. The game was massive for the locals and the air was filled with anticipation. The whole stadium was singing England’s rugby anthem “Sing low, sweet Chariot” and it was impressive. I was ready.
Pride and the best fans in the world
As a press photographer the RWC 2015 was a gift fallen from the sky. There were literally photos everywhere, fans in the most sophisticated costumes just a minute away from the press room. It took no longer than 15 minutes to go for a wonder and come back with a set of strong fan pictures. Much has been said about the Men in Black huge intimidating war dance, The Haka but it was also moving to see the gentle giants come to tears during their national anthems, especially the Pumas.
Power and Blood
I will sit by the pitch usually an hour before kick off, this will allow me for pictures of the coaches and a quick chat with the photographers around me to try to squeeze one last piece of advice. I usually like sitting next to the experienced sports freelancers and the newspapers photographers. If you listen carefully, they will give you great tips. The game was fascinating to watch, there was drama of the highest order. No time for diving and definetely no time to arguee with the referee who is always addressed as “Sir”. Like a play of fine theatre, the 80 minutes deliver an array of emotions and by the time the curtain falls, has brought both joy and tears.
Cardiff, the pressure cooker.
In the Millennium stadium the atmosphere was electrifying and I have never seen anything like it. The roof was closed and my favourite game of the tournament was well under way. It was tense and exciting in equal manner and when Juan Imhoff from Argentina scored the winning try the pumas went crazy. After the game was over, they spent an hour going around the pitch greeting and hugging everyone, it didn’t matter if they were from Argentina or Ireland. It was a fine moment of sportsmanship. After two hours the game was over I was still filing and I could hear a few hard core Irish supporters singing the “The Belle of Belfast city”.
Almost six weeks had passed by and 160 photographers were congregated in the main press room listening to Tony Weymouth and his team explaining the logistics before the big day: “20 photographers from the main agencies and newspapers will need a yellow arm band for the trophy shot”, “60 will be allowed for the champagne board” and so on. Finally, he said “the lap of honour it is a free for all.” We quickly drew our plan of action. My colleagues, Andy (Rain) in the main position, Gerry (Penny) would shoot from up top and me on the Champagne board. Although the throphy pictures are very important, I have learned that in such occasions there is always an opportunity to get something different, a special moment, a candid shot, that will stand out from the more sougth-after “pot shot”. It could be with the anxious families awaiting them or with the loving fans. The main problem is that it can happen anywhere.
I knew that if I was going to have a chance, I had to be quick on my feet so right after the “champagne shot” I dumped my 500mm lens on the side of the pitch and started following them on their lap of honour. I was trying to focus on the players holding the cup, but what I was really waiting for was a player to go over to the crowd. All of a sudden, I see this little boy running past me and, as quick as lightning, he jumps over the publicity boards, invading the pitch but was immediately tackled to the ground by a security guard right in front of Sonny Bill Williams. The All Black’s star picks him up and starts hugging and talking to him. The photographers allowed on the pitch rushed over and were busy taking photographs of the incident when unexpectedly the giant and the little boy started walking towards me through a tiny gap between the publicity boards. Sonny was walking with him to be reunited with his parents. The scene was set, the crowd was roaring, photographers were surrounding the two main protagonists and I was in my favourite spot of all: right in the middle of it!