For over 16 years one of New Zealand’s greatest trans-Tasman triumphs has been overshadowed by one of our most crushing rugby losses. Jamie Wall remembers the day TrueBliss absolutely owned Bardot in a pre-Bledisloe Cup national anthem sing-off.
The dawn of the new millennium was a dark time for the All Blacks. Their final game pre-Y2K was a 22-18 loss to South Africa in the 3rd-place playoff of the World Cup, after being unceremoniously dumped out by France in the semifinals. The Wallabies were the champions of the world and in the middle of a five-year Bledisloe Cup reign.
While our rugby team was a bust, the Kiwi music and reality television industries were booming. Somewhere in between the demise of McDonald’s Young Entertainers and the rise of New Zealand Idol emerged a show called Popstars, which blessed us with a singing group the likes of which New Zealand had never seen before. The name of the band was TrueBliss.
These two worlds collided at Wellington’s brand new Westpac Stadium on the 5th of August, 2000. TrueBliss were to perform the national anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’ before the Bledisloe Cup test match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. The Popstars concept had been successfully migrated over the ditch, and the Aussie version of the show had spawned Bardot, whose first hit single attempted to rhyme the words ‘ocean’ and ‘poison’. They were to perform the Australian national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’.
Bardot sang first, and they were not good. For starters, two fifths of the group were wearing all black. They tried to harmonise parts of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ which should never have been harmonised, not like that. The Wallabies themselves unwittingly got picked up on the ground microphone, so the whole thing had mumbling, confused backing vocals. Head of the Australian Rugby Union John O’Neill looked clearly displeased with the performance, while commentator Murray Mexted couldn’t help but put the boot in, sarcastically describing the rendition as “delightful.”
TrueBliss struck back immediately for the home side while a patriotic troupe of marching girls held aloft a comically tiny New Zealand flag. The Te Reo verse had only just been made official, so you can put the crowd’s clear reluctance to sing it down to unfamiliarity if not good old-fashioned institutional racism.
Performing without Carly Binding, who had quit the group earlier in the year citing ‘creative differences’, the remaining quartet of Joe Cotton, Erica Takacs, Keri Harper and Megan Cassie did their nation proud. The uncultured rugby crowd may not have bothered to remove their hats or even stop drinking plastic bottles of beer, but the more discerning All Blacks players seemed to enjoy it, even if the slight tweaking of the last line clearly confused Ron Cribb.
Little did the members of TrueBliss or Bardot know as they left the stage, but their anthems would lay the platform for one of the greatest trans-Tasman rugby tests of all time, a game with a climax so tense that subbed first-five eighth Andrew Mehrtens was forced to blindfold himself with a sock.
Perhaps Bardot’s version of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was still echoing through John Eales’ head as he teed up his iconic match winning penalty kick deep in injury time, and it was only as the ball sailed between the posts, snatching a 24-23 victory and retaining the Bledisloe Cup for Australia, that the voices fell silent.
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