All Blacks fans are a tough crowd and it’s getting all a little tedious. Two games against Australia in the past two weeks saw two fantastic contests– one a comprehensive, record-breaking loss for the men in black, the other a complete turnaround where they played the Wallabies off the park. All in all – international elite sport at its best – with viewers in New Zealand, Australia, and around the world glued to their screens.
But the hand wringing, and the whining and the finger pointing after the first game littered the airwaves and the comment sections of the copious ‘end of the world’ articles that dominated online news coverage. ‘Hansen must go.’ ‘The team is too old.’ ‘They haven’t got a clue.’ They are weak and clueless.’ It happens without fail every time they All Blacks lose or do not match the ridiculous expectations of many Kiwi rugby fans. It’s always worse before a Rugby World Cup and it gets very, very stale.
“They are more interested and focused on out-witting, out-muscling, and out-playing 15 other blokes that are trying to do exactly the same thing in 80 odd minutes of rugby.”
Some Kiwis love pointing out the perceived negative traits of other nation’s sporting teams. The Aussies – arrogant and over-rated. The English, arrogant and self righteous. The French, arrogant and dirty. Much of this is generated by those countries’ press, not the teams, or the players themselves. I imagine that the All Blacks shrug all of that off. They are more interested and focused on out-witting, out-muscling, and out-playing 15 other blokes that are trying to do exactly the same thing in 80 odd minutes of rugby.
What I saw over those two games was an All Blacks coaching team testing players and tactics – honing combinations and plays to arrive at a team, and a squad that will hopefully perform incredibly well in a tournament. It’s important to remember that the World Cup is a tournament, played over weeks where anything can happen, and often does. It’s essential to establish depth in every position and to create a leadership group that can adapt to any situation on the field. We have failed at that before – think losing to France in the quarter final of the 2007 World Cup.
“But there’s far too many New Zealand rugby fans who think the end is nigh when we lose a game, or draw one, as against South Africa, without understanding how valuable, and essential those games are for developing a truly world beating team.”
It’s so important to go into a World Cup with a team that’s been truly tested – where players who may not be good enough in the end have been given an opportunity in the cauldron of test matches and then culled before the tournament begins. But there’s far too many New Zealand rugby fans who think the end is nigh when we lose a game, or draw one, as against South Africa, without understanding how valuable, and essential those games are for developing a truly world beating team.
I was awed by the rugby played in the second test that secured the Bledisloe Cup and continued the amazing winning streak against Australia at Eden Park. It was fast, skillful, relentless. The All Blacks secured ball, moved it at pace and scored some fantastic tries. Hansen and his coaching staff had changed the team and the tactics and instilled a versatility and mental toughness that kept the Wallabies scoreless, and frankly clueless. It was invigorating stuff.
I don’t for a second imagine that there won’t be further hurdles before the final in Tokyo in November but I take great heart in the strength to change and wear the burden of an often negative Kiwi press and rugby public that this All Blacks organisation exemplifies. Lastly, it’s good for the All Blacks to lose on another level too. Competition and strength amongst other teams only creates better games and exhilarating contests – and it’s boring winning all the time.