7 Oct

Nightmare On World Cup Street – Part III
by Paul Waite
7 Oct 2007

rubbishThe mainstream media probably won’t say it, so I will. The All Blacks got sent home 18-20 from this Rugby World Cup by France today due to two awful decisions by referee Wayne Barnes.

The first was the ridiculous sending to the sin-bin of Luke McAllister in yet another of these hair-trigger ‘clampdown’ decisions which have blighted this World Cup. The public want to see who is best of XV vs. XV, not a points lottery decided by a whistle-happy referee. Naturally in such a tight test this directly gifted the French a try during that 10 minutes. It was equally unsurprising that it marked the turning point of the test.

McAllister was simply going for a tackle and turned after the ball got chipped. He never changed direction in order to obstruct, and in fact didn’t really register the contact. The French player made the most of it – the phrase ‘Hollywood’ comes to mind.

The second was his, and his touch-judges missing of what was an absolutely blatant forward-pass to Michalak – a pass which made the break which created France’s winning try. In the after-match interview, Graham Henry was typically diplomatic, saying “we just didn’t get the rub of the green”, but privately I would bet he and the team are seething over this inept refereeing performance. Forward passes are often missed in a test, but usually because the officials are a log way off. In this case the touch judge was only 1 or 2m away, so how did he miss this?

Two tries borne on the back of incompetent officlals. It’s all enough to make you say “let’s just not bother” when it comes to being interested in World Cup rugby. If that kind of thing happens then why would you? – it just becomes a joke, a lottery in the end depending on which brand of idiot you get blowing the whistle, something I warned could happen some days earlier.

As for the remainder of the test, apart from a lovely try to McAllister, it rose to no great heights, and was absolutely painful to watch at times. Barnes seemed to have eyes only for All Black infringements for the whole 80 minutes, missing French offsides around the ruck as a matter of course, and naturally, when a French player turned to chase a kick and impeded an All Black later in the second half, this wasn’t punished with a sin-bin.

The general tenor in the media will probably be of the “All Blacks just weren’t good enough in the end” genre. That’s bollocks, they were good enough to take this test out. The other thing you will probably hear a lot of is “the All Blacks
didn’t have enough hard tests”. This is also wrong. Look again at the
way they played this test and you will see nothing less than you saw at
the height of the Tri-Nations – more in fact.

The reason they didn’t win was all down to the cretin blowing the whistle, end of story. If that makes me a sore loser in the eyes of many, then that’s just dandy. The truth is like that sometimes.

So where to from here? Well, even if this All Black team had lifted the trophy, a lot of it’s ‘stars’ are probably going to disappear off-shore anyway, in that way professional sport has of diluting the national game, so it isn’t as if it would have had any continuity much beyond 2008. I expect Henry will call it a day too, and hand over the reigns to someone else, perhaps Hansen. Alternatively a new broom may get Robbie Deans the top job, leaving Hansen free to go back and do a bit of redeeming in Wales.

 

No doubt we can look forward to a lot more hand-wringing and angst here in New Zealand over the coming weeks, as we face yet another “Four More Years” scenario.

Personally I’m not hugely bothered by this loss, apart from the way that it happened – if the IRB had any idea of good refereeing, which they haven’t, Barnes would be dangling by his privates from a lamp-post somewhere in Cardiff by now. That being as it may, the sun will come up again tomorrow, and there’s the comparative sanity of provincial rugby to look forward to.

But I think it’s high time for a different approach to be adopted by the New Zealand Rugby Union. Forget about this over-blown event and what we have built it up to represent. Since New Zealand won the inaugural World Cup about a million years ago, we have had this belief we “own” it. That together with our generally high standards we set for our test rugby has made it into some kind of Holy Grail.

It has been my unvarying view, for the past 20 years, that the Rugby World Cup is relatively unimportant. The team that wins it usually does so with a mixture of luck, skill and on-the-day happenstance, as you can always expect from a knockout tournament. It’s a great festival of rugby but nothing more. It’s like a birthday, where the party is a blast on the day, but life is all about the other 364.

So I believe the New Zealand approach should change course 180-degrees, Let’s simply not care whether we win or lose it, and especially not put in place some grand 4-year plan to win the next one, apply reconditioning windows etc. Instead just concentrate on building the strength and depth of the All Blacks to be the best they can be for every test in each and every season, and just concentrate on those year by year.

Then in World Cup year, just go to the event with whatever you have at the time and enjoy the bloody thing for what it is.
God knows the 100% meticulous planning paradigm hasn’t worked, so it’s time to try another one.

That way I believe, paradoxically, the World Cup will become easier to win, not harder. And rugby will shed some of this ridiculous 4-year-cycle nonsense that it has at present. The only fly in the ointment with that for 2011 of course is that WE are hosting the damn thing.

Oh well, maybe we can manage it when it’s in our own back-yard, but I’m not betting any money on that either – knockout tournaments are funny things as this one has proved.

I wonder if the All Blacks will meet up with the Wallabies at the airport on the way home for an early start to the summer?

Time to scrape the rust off the barbie and concentrate on the really important things.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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