By the time most of you will read this, the out come of the New Zealand versus the Republic of South Africa Rugby World Cup Semi Final will be known. We will either be playing for the right to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy a third time or doomed to a play off for third with either Australia or Argentina. The final stages of settling the bragging rights for international rugby union for the next four years will be in motion.
There are not many sports where New Zealand is so consistently, so brilliantly, and perhaps – now that a few lessons have been learnt – so deservedly dominant than in rugby union. It is a sport that has been with New Zealand since its early days when we were still a British colony. It is a sport that has certainly seen its share of turbulence, both deserved and undeserved in its time as the premier sport of New Zealand.
There have been times when rugby has genuinely infuriated me as a sport. The macho attitude of males who, unable to get over the loss to France in 2007 were claiming to be depressed more than a month after the Rugby World Cup 2007 campaign ended, annoyed many. To me it was the epitome of a sport that at the time I thought was too big for its own good. It was a sport that encouraged arrogance and failed to understand sometimes why not everyone is a fan of rugby union. From the matter of who had copyright to the Silver Fern, through to rugby commentators putting down women with sexist commentary and supposedly grown rugby players such as Doug Howlett jumping on cars in Paris to relieve his frustration, I thought the entire rugby establishment needed to grow up.
One of those lessons was humility. Humbleness. Listening to the put down of other teams from so called rugby experts and boffins some days made me hope that the All Blacks would get beaten just to shut them up.
Another was respect for the All Black jersey. To wear one as a standing member of the current squad is one the highest honours rugby anywhere in the world can bestow on you. It is immense. But it was not always treated like that.
But the last – and the one that cost them the Rugby World Cup in 2007 – is arrogance. It was admitted as much by coach Steve Hansen in the last few weeks that previous teams were a bit arrogant in terms of their expectations. At times the All Blacks gave the impression of expecting other nations to just roll over, and when they failed to do so, the All Blacks did not have a game plan. Just ask France.
But this World Cup is genuinely different. It is different for several reasons, all of which are good, and point to the maturity of the All Blacks team that Steve Hansen and his assistants have put together. They point to a team that has learnt some very important lessons that were sorely lacking in previous Rugby World Cup campaigns. They learnt things that sometimes unfortunately have not been associated with the All Blacks, but which New Zealanders like to expect in every team regardless of who they are – Black Caps, Black Sticks, All Blacks, whatever.
So, today I stand with the New Zealand All Blacks. I stand with them because they are a team playing some fantastic rugby at the moment. I stand with them because they have learnt those past lessons, which I think are central to being a New Zealand sports person regardless of ones code. I stand with them because they are a genuine New Zealand team and great ambassadors for our country. Sure they make mistakes every now and again as we as humans are prone to doing – as long as they genuinely learn from those mistakes, understand that what they did was wrong and take steps to avoid a repetition, they have grown.
Kia Kaha New Zealand All Blacks