Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Only For Diehard All Blacks Fans

This was posted in the COBRA eGroup site after the All Blacks defeat to the Wallabies last weekend. It would give you an idea how a true blue (black?) AB supporter thinks.

Subject: With golden soil and stealth for toil

Forget it if you think I'm going to panic about a loss to Australia in June. Sure it hurts, but pain heals.

After flying almost fifty hours in a week, with the Springboks in Durban as a stopover, the All Blacks with a rearranged midfield were ambushed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground by fifteen fresh Wallabies, a South African referee and a groundsman who painted the lines on the pitch yellow instead of white... three days after the reinstatement of John O'Neill as Australian Rugby Union CEO.

The stars just weren't aligned. Anyone who'd underestimated the Wallabies in such a situation, thinking that power up front is a guarantee of victory, was foolish. We are forced to acknowledge the everpresent danger of loss. One reassuring thing is that not even a World Cup final can equal the physical difficulty of the task they faced. Paris in October might surpass it for mental pressure, but the Springboks and Wallabies as successive opponents on separate continents two weekends running is as gut-bustingly tough as it gets.

Throw in a legendary cricket venue that only one current All Black has played at, with the ground painted camouflage green and gold. For good measure, get the Aussie media to character-assassinate their own representatives for a full year beforehand, and you have the perfect recipe for upset.

The fact that Marius Jonker sin-binned All Black scrum lynchpin Carl Hayman for a superb piece of rugby was almost incidental. These are the fixtures where at least one game-turning decision by a shaky official should almost be taken for granted, and the cruelty of the penalty against Hayman was just the flavour du jour... who cares if a mouthful of roadkill has too much salt? Hayman dispossessed the ball-carrier with a piledriving hit, plucking the ball loose and placing it perfectly with one hand as he cushioned his own fall with a couple of yellow-upholstered lungs. It was hard to imagine a bad angle to view this from. The whistle came immediately though, and the card hard on its heels, Jonker having already warned the All Blacks for repeated infringements. Strangely, all three tight five replacements had already been made at the forty five minute mark. Now with tighthead Hayman removed, blindside flanker Jerry Collins had to make way for the other prop Tony Woodcock to return. Previously the All Black effort had been energetic and pretty much irresistible.

Two tries had already come, one low-gear shunt by Woodcock and one stylish flourish on the right wing by Rico Gear after Luke McAlister had broken the line. Another lightning quick attack had put the All Blacks in a position to close out the game before half-tie, but number eight Rodney So'oialo had grassed the final transfer. The All Blacks already led 15-6, and this would have sealed the deal. As it turned out, they needed a bigger comfort zone. Our two perceived weaknesses, lineout and midfield, were working as well as could be expected. McAlister at centre hardly looked troubled by the predations of Stirling Mortlock and Matt Giteau in the Wallaby midfield. We contested their lineout successfully as often as they spoiled ours and the general impression was that New Zealand was playing most of the rugby, but there were too many tired-looking errors (kicks out on the full, lazy offsides and going alone with unmarked men outside sprinkled amongst the scintillating attacks.

Play was also divided into these verses by the chorus of Jonker. Roll away Black, Hands off Black he sang... somehow also finding fault with the scrummaging technique of Hayman and Woodcock although their markers were tunnelling at every engagement and George Gregan didn't actually manage to feed a scrum cleanly until the thirty-first minute.

Defence was a highlight from both teams. Prior to the Hayman binning All Black tackles were wonderfully committed and organised. Lote Tuqiri got a hospital pass from a team-mate that arrived at the same time as Collins, Hayman and Keven Mealamu... I am Joe's spasming back muscles. But after the yellow card and pack reshuffle Gear, Richie McCaw and Chris Jack all failed to stop a jinking Adam Ashley-Cooper. Giteau slotted the conversion inside out from the left hand touchline, whereas Dan Carter had missed similar shots and some considerably easier.

Mortlock stepped into the breach as always in the dying minutes and made McAlister's grasping tackle look weak, then wrong-footed McCaw to slice the All Black defence wide open. A hook pass put replacement wing Scott Staniforth in under the crossbar, and the MCG erupted. We can't just shrug the loss off, we must closely study the errors and learn from them in order to eliminate them eventually. One day soon this very team is going to play the perfect game, and perfection is rarely an accident.

We do not need to count on attacking ball from lineout if we have a dominant scrum platform. All we need to do is not surrender any more of the touchline than necessary with bad kicking. We don't need to play so close to the offside line at the tackle if our flankers are already more mobile and our midfielders are more highly skilled at the breakdown. We already know the referees are trigger happy, so we need to trust the law of averages rather than the average law enforcer. And while we should back ourselves to execute in any situation, going to ground with possession cradled is just as often executing correctly as offloading a spectacular pass in traffic is, the commendable inclination to play expressively notwithstanding.

It's hard to put the 15-20 loss into context historically. In 1999 we got a spanking by Australia in the last test before the World Cup, then went on to lose an infamous semifinal to France who we had already thrashed that same year, and in 2003 we put half a century on the Wallabies at Stadium Australia before losing a World Cup semifinal to them on the same ground... so the psychological effect of a close loss in a hellishly difficult fixture is almost impossible to gauge with the World Cup casting a giant shadow again.

It must be especially beastly for my expatriate subscribers, trapped in Australian offices this week. Amongst all the obligatory sheep noises, that tired old routine about choking when it counts will be heard amongst other readings from the Book of Fellatians, and the All Blacks mean too much to displaced New Zealanders for small beer like Greg Norman or Lay Down Sally to count as ammunition for throwing back in their faces.

Even the aphorists are no help for once. Thomas Fuller tells us that a stumble may prevent a fall, while W.H. Auden says we are history-making creatures who can neither repeat our past nor leave it behind. Comforting only the spiritually unsure, such old beards always left their wisdom open-ended... of no use except to those of little faith simply casting about. Better to be strong of heart and cultivate a vengeful way of thinking. The scar tissue left after a wound is tough for a reason. As much as I was prepared to explain away this test as an always-likely loss, I am equally determined that its minutiae be studied for future reference, in order for the come-uppance we're on the verge of delivering to be handed down that much more righteously.

So if you're an All Black and you've just been hijacked in the bowels of sporting Australia, or if you're a New Zealander going to work in downtown Oz on the Monday after such a horrible result, poofters like Fuller and Auden should not be setting the tone. That is better left to mensch like Planes, Trains and Automobiles' Neil Page, who in the face of unendurable hardship roared at the heavens, You're messing with the wrong guy.

Email this newsletter to your most annoying Aussie employee, the litle milquetoast with the whiniest twang. Yell out Check your blackberry you chain-clanking yuppie ponce, then go to lunch and have an extra Steinlager.

Until next week, Inky remains at your service. Inky is proud to be associated with EXIDE Batteries, the all black power pack: Australia 1800 800 811 New Zealand 0800 651 611

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