Report from the Shaky Isles

Report from the Shaky Isles

All together now

Article by Sportsfreak

Immediately following the World Cup humiliation, everything seemed straight forward. An already disgruntled rugby public due to a non-event of a Super 14 had to put up with an early yet inevitable exit from the World Cup by a team coached who had always said this is how he was to be judged.

A pompous Independent Inquiry was announced, but this initially seemed to be so that the NZRU could be seen to be doing the right thing. We even offered to save them some money and published our review for free

It did not seem worth stating the obvious that Henry and Smith had to go; they only grey area was whether Hansen should go with them.

That was 3 weeks ago, during which time we have witnessed a strange national mood of denial, a certain stubbornness from the NZRU, all aided and abetted by a compliant media preferring to set rather than reflect the mood of the country.

At about the same time that Doug Howlett was dancing on cars in London, the NZ rugby media launched a campaign on how we had to mature as a nation, and not take out our disappointment on the All Blacks players or management. The ghost of 1999, when John Hart’s horse was spat on in Christchurch was something not to be repeated this time around.

While we can clearly be thankful that ugliness did not occur this year, what eventuated here was the complete opposite. 4,000 adoring fans, a worryingly high percentage of them schoolchildren, turned up at Christchurch airport to welcome the team home as champions. The MasterCard All Black flags were out in force, and the whole event seemed very choreographed, and something out of Chairman Mao’s People’s Republic of China. Is it really a sign of a maturing sporting public to flip from one extreme to the other?

At that arrival, Graham Henry brought out The Headmaster Ritual and told us we were to be proud of these lads, they were heroes, and they had given it everything (presumably this excluded attempting drop-goals). He then mumbled that he was going nowhere, and given the highly publicised mood of the occasion, no-one dared question this statement.

The media, especially the New Zealand Herald and the TV networks, seemed to quite like this. With Jock Hobbs’s assistance a lot was made of Wayne Barnes’s shortcomings, with a new barrel being scraped with the embarrassing spectacle of an “anonymous leading referee” performing a minute-by-minute analysis of his performance. We can only assume this anonymous appraisal was done with the benefit of slow-motion replays. This side-show also had the benefit of being a handy way for the average All Black fan to vent their spleen. It was only once Barnes’s Wikipedia page got covered with death threats that the media eased up on that angle.

Then there has been the curious business of the on-line polls. At the best of times these are not the most scientific or relevant way of gauging public opinion, but the wording on some was done in such a way as to indicate that a vote against Henry was akin to supporting England. Never mind, it gave the channels a lead item for the sports news, rather than admitting the World Cup final was between England and South Africa. Denial.

But hang on. Henry said repeatedly that he would be judged on World Cup performances alone. He was also responsible for the prolonged rest and reconditioning programme that not only meant the All Blacks were clearly short of match fitness, but alienated the poor suckers that pay for it all.

And meanwhile the person to lead the Independent Inquiry remains unnamed. This was always going to be a tricky one. It is a rugby strategy inquiry, so that rules out the normal route of employing a retired judge who would understand the concept of independence. And anyone with enough experience to conduct such a review is likely to a vested interest somewhere. New Zealand is a small place like that. All we know about the scope of the review to date is that it is not to seek input from the players themselves. In other words, a whitewash.

So come on; NZRU. You run this country’s national sport. You have an obligation to the people of this country to fix what has gone wrong, and to stop fretting about individual careers and reputations. You have set up the Independent Inquiry smokescreen, now you must go through with it. Make sure the players are involved too; they were effected by the reconditioning programme you rubber-stamped. If that is deemed to be a mistake we must know about it, however awkward that may make some of you feel.

Oh, and please give up this brainwashing rubbish. It’s just making it worse.


Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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