• Are the All Blacks Special?

    In sport, as in the rest of life, success is not always accompanied by applause and approbation.  It can often attract resentment, envy and criticism.

    Rugby is no exception.  The unparalleled success enjoyed by the All Blacks over such a long period is most often greeted by sports fans around the world with praise, enjoyment and wonder.  But there is always a substantial fringe of supposed rugby fans – usually from overseas – for whom that success is not to be celebrated for the skill and commitment it represents but is to be diminished and denigrated by those who cannot bear to see a team from another country garnering plaudits for its dominance.

    Anyone with a stomach strong enough to read the readers’ comments that are often published following match reports in overseas newspapers will have become enured to the spiteful and churlish attempts to devalue the All Blacks’ performance.  Many of these “rugby fans” profess to see in the ABs’ exploits nothing more than a willingness to play dirty and break the rules, and when the authorities mysteriously fail to agree with them, they take refuge in another bolt hole – the All Blacks, they assert, enjoy some sort of miraculous immunity from the usual laws and penalties.

    Most such comments can be dismissed without a moment’s thought, since those making them are so manifestly lacking in any knowledge of the game or of its administration.  But there are those who should, and do, know better, and who should be challenged when they persist in trying to make anything worth drinking from such sour grapes.

    The last test match against the Wallabies, and the alleged “eye-gouging” by Owen Franks, provide a leading, and regrettable, example.  We can perhaps excuse a Michael Cheika, desperate for something – anything – to divert attention from yet another defeat, for his attempt to focus on the alleged incident; and we can certainly agree that the footage shown ad nauseam on our screens demonstrates that it is unwise to allow a hand to get anywhere near an opponent’s face.

    But what is less forgivable is the alacrity with which some professional commentators in the northern hemisphere jumped on the bandwagon, and enthusiastically supported a complaint that even the alleged victim did not wish, to his credit, to pursue.  One could almost hear the sighs of relief from a Stephen Jones or a Brian O’Driscoll that there was something about yet another All Black victory that might allow them to comment negatively rather than positively.

    Commentators such as these have form.  They are both renowned for the grudges they bear against not only the All Blacks, but against the New Zealand rugby public and even against the country itself.  O’Driscoll at least has the excuse that he was the victim of a shockingly unfortunate accident in a Lions match in New Zealand when he was the tourists’ captain.

    Where he goes beyond what is reasonable, however, is his unwillingness to accept that his injury was caused unintentionally and was not the result of deliberately foul play, and that any complaint about its treatment should be laid at the door of the judiciary and not of New Zealand rugby.  Instead, he has all too predictably  used the Franks incident to re-ignite the charge that the All Blacks play dirty and have some special dispensation that allows them to get away with it.

    Stephen Jones has no such excuse.  As far as I know, the All Blacks and New Zealand have never done him an injury, either physical or metaphorical, but have instead treated him as a welcome guest when he has visited these shores.  Yet the Sunday Times’ experienced rugby correspondent has returned to the Lion’s tour and the O’Driscoll accident in order to persuade his readers that the Franks episode is just the latest instance in a long-established pattern of All Black foul play, and blind eyes suffered not just by their opponents but by officials as well.

    Jones’ comments might easily be dismissed as an aberration if it were not for the animus he has displayed against the All Blacks over a long period.  His relationship with southern hemisphere rugby has always been somewhat fractious, going back to the early days of Super rugby which he dismissed as candy-floss, with little to commend it in terms of forward play or defensive rigour.

    As to what that animus might be based on, we can only speculate.  The best bet seems to be that – to do him some sort of justice – he lives and feels his rugby so keenly that he literally cannot bear to see the teams he supports beaten so regularly and comprehensively by a team from a small and faraway country.  What he seems to seek is some sort of release or catharsis that allows him to excuse their defeats by attributing them to factors other than their own deficiencies or the merits of their All Black opponents.

    The best advice we can offer him – and Brian O’Driscoll, who famously lost every match he played against the All Blacks – is that it’s just a game.  It’s just that the All Blacks are very good at it.  And did Malakai Fekatoa ever get his boot back?

    Bryan Gould

    5 September 2016





1 Comment

  1. Red says: September 5, 2016 at 9:58 amReply

    Well said, plain old jealousy and externalising ones own failures by messer jones and O Driscoll

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