Let’s get one thing straight. What follows is not by any means an attack on the New Zealand rugby team. They are after all a magnificent side with no weaknesses and fantastic strength in depth who are virtually unbeatable and there’s really no point in any other teams showing up for the Rugby World Cup in France in September.
What does irk me somewhat, however, is the way in which certain New Zealanders appear to believe that being the world’s number one rugby team gives them the right to adopt a holier than thou attitude to the rugby issues of the day and/or to belittle other teams who might not be up to the All Blacks’ lofty standards.
Setting aside the furore that seems to attach itself to every performance of Haka these days, I for one get more than a little irritated by the self-righteous preaching coming out of the All Black camp from time to time.
The latest sermon by the right Reverend Graham Henry concerns what he describes as the "poaching" of New Zealand players by European clubs. Not only does he appear to lay the blame at the clubs’ door (failing to mention that perhaps it is the players and their agents who might, in fact, be initiating the process), he then has the temerity to criticise the players’ choice in succumbing to the temptation of the filthy lucre being thrown at them by the evil clubs.
Notwithstanding the delicious irony of a situation in which New Zealand is now painting itself as the “victim” of player poaching, this is the same Graham Henry, remember, who was paid a small fortune by the Welsh Rugby Union to be their “Great Redeemer” in the late nineties and whose coaching staff also grew rich in the Northern Hemisphere.
Henry also had the gall to lash out at the French recently, firstly for sending a severely weakened squad down under as their top clubs were still involved in the French Championship, and then criticising the French players’ “negativity” in not allowing the All Blacks to rack up a cricket score in the 1st Test. Firstly you have to ask why an international fixture was arranged to take place before the French Championship was completed, and then wonder what the patchwork cobbled-together French 3rd XV were supposed to do? Just roll over and accept a hiding?
This lack of respect for opposition that the All Blacks believe is beneath them also rears its head in the local press. Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue delights in pointing out that many of the current England training squad are a bit long in the tooth and that we have no chance of mounting a successful defence of the World Cup.
Jeez, tell us something we didn’t already know Einstein. We know we’re crap. We know we’re desperate. We know that a quarter final exit is the most likely outcome. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out and (apart from the odd bit of sabre rattling from a certain Welshman in the Sunday Times) no one in England is saying otherwise.
Such is the tone of Rattue’s article, so scathing is he of English chances, that I begin to wonder whether New Zealanders are getting a tad jumpy ahead of the tournament. Perhaps the memories are beginning to surface of how, despite the ridicule of the Southern Hemisphere press, Dad’s Army still won the 2003 event even though they were awash with thirty-somethings. Or perhaps New Zealand’s habit of being the best team in the world in between (but never at) World Cups is beginning to catch up with them?