(Which it did, last Wednesday in Wellington, as the crowds gathered to ticker-tape the All Blacks).
let's be clear that I was as wound up and emotionally invested in the
Rugby World Cup as any Kiwi. I gritted my teeth during the first part of
the quarter-final against Argentina; silently shook and bit my nails
until around the 79th minute of the semi-final versus Australia; and sat
ashen-faced through most of the final. Somehow despite all the
intellectual defences, I couldn't escape the shared cultural yearning
(there must be some German expression for that) that the All Blacks
should win the damned World Cup.
And, I should own this, becuse
I've criticised other people for it: at the end I was just relieved
rather than joyous. We won on the scoreboard, but it wasn't convincing. Had we been lucky? Did we really deserve
it? I know we couldn't really expect a Brazil 1970 or New Zealand 1987
moment, but the way we won just seemed a little anticlimactic. Maybe in
another post I'll unpick that disappointment from a sporting angle.
made my own confession, and now that I've woken from my fevered dream
and am once again conversant with concepts such as fairness and dignity,
let me make the following little quibbles.
1.It's really a pity
that no one associated with the All Blacks saw fit to congratulate or
acknowledge the French for their performance. They silenced anyone who
had written them off and were probably the better team on the night.
Yes, they might have committed some skulduggery in the rucks, but we're
not entirely innocent of that either. And even if you don't feel like
being civil to them directly, offering an acknowledgement is a sign of
dignity. Sean Fitzpatrick used to offer "full credit to the opposition",
even after a 50-point shellacking.
2. The relentless booing of
Quade Cooper during the tournamentwas dumb, boring and boorish. OK, so
there were the cheap shots on Richie McCaw. But as noted above, the All
Blacks are hardly angels either. I used to be embarassed that I had to
support a team with Richard Loe in it. I'm not sure whether there was
really an ethnic dimension to the treatment of Cooper
but it definitely went too far. I admit that during the tournament I
was supporting anyone against Australia, but that was mainly because I
thought they were our biggest threat. I'm still rather terrified by the
prospect of a backline including Genia, Ioane, Beale and O'Connor along
with Cooper for the forseeable future. God help us if they find
themselves a tight five.
3. I guess it's true that ultimately
winning by 1 point is as good as 20, it's not how you win but whether
you win, etcetera. Recognising that much is itself a kind of humility,
so that's progress. But having embraced the Dark Side, let's be
consistent. I never again want to hear from the New Zealand media about
"boring" or "negative" sides from the Northern Hemisphere. In the
semi-final, we did to Australia what South Africa at their best
occasionally do to us: played a territorial game, put them under
pressure, and kicked the penalties. In the final, we were like a
particularly nervous version of England at their most conservative.
also don't want to hear endless moaning about bad luck or poor
referee's decisions. As we saw clearly during the World Cup, a number of
sides had major grievances with how they were refereed, and Wales'
whole tournament was derailed in a single moment. Let's acknowledge that
there are swings and roundabouts and we probably got the rub of the
greeen this time.
4. Could the media and people in general do any
more to get things out of proportion and set everyone up for failure and
disappointment? Endless repetitions of "24 years of hurt" (actually,
from 1987-91 we were reigning champions, so strictly speaking any "hurt"
has only been going for 20 years), and "how much it would mean" to the
players, the coach, and the nation's collective psyche raised the stakes
so much that collapsing under the pressure was almost the only possible
response. Yes, everyone loves World Cups and given our track record
it's about time New Zealand won the thing. But a tournament is by its
nature fickle and no matter how good you are you can't legislate against
a confluence of circumstances that can knock you out.Don't forget that
football giants Germany haven't won anything for 16 years, and Argentina
for 18 years.
On average the All Blacks win an excellent 3 out of
4 games against top opposition (Australia, France, England and South
Africa) But that fourth game can occur at any time. And there's no
guarantee of winning big games. New Zealand does well in general by
having a good all round mix of skill and power. But player for player
(especially without Dan Carter) you'd be hard pressed to claim that we
are obviously superior to other teams. At present, Australia has a
better back line, and France, South Africa and England would all
slightly shade us in the tight forwards. So being the No 1 team and not
winning the World Cup are perfectly compatible. Maybe we could have a
little more celebration of the 10 Tri Nations titles and the unbeaten
record in the Northern Hemisphere since 2002. That's what the Australians