28 Nov

Tall Poppies
by Paul Waite
28 Nov 2004

The All Blacks took the field at Stade de France wearing a special commemorative jersey with a single poppy emblazoned on the sleeve. The test match was fought for the Dave Gallagher Trophy, in memory of the great New Zealand rugby player, skipper of The Originals, and war hero who lost his life in Passchendaele in World War 1.

After the test some of what the players were saying in interviews gave us a sneak peek into the psyche of the test-week buildup. They talked of “starting a new legacy for The All Blacks”, and of honouring the New Zealanders who had fought in that massively wasteful war, and died there.

These are powerfully emotive thoughts, and it all came pouring out in a haka led for the very first time by Tana Umaga, of Samoan heritage, who nonetheless tore into it with a ferocity to quicken the heart of any Maori purist.

The post-haka expressions on the faces of the All Blacks, as they waited calmly for the French to kick off belied what lay beneath the surface. By the end of half an hour, the French front row was in disarray, requiring regular medical treatment for the battering they were taking, and looking like they had already played eighty minutes and would rather be anywhere else but on that battlefield in the Stade de France.

As with any genuine test match worthy of the title, it started with the front row, and that old campaigner Anton Oliver led the charge. In behind them the return of Norm Maxwell, with his take-no-prisoners attitude still on full throttle despite a worn body, and his partner Chris Jack were the engine room in a scrum which simply destroyed their opposites. By the end the French had run out of props, or at least said they had – perhaps none were willing to return from the safety of the touchline – and the referee had to visit the final indignity on them of calling for Golden Oldie (no pushing) scrums.

It was nothing less than a total and utter humiliation for a pack reckoned to be the strongest in the Northern Hemisphere.

Given this platform, the All Black loose forwards McCaw, Collins and So’oialo had the chance to outshine their illustrious opposites. Olivier Magne, that superlative No.7, was taken in a thunderous tackle by All Black winger Doug Howlett, and almost folded in half by it. He was never a force in the test after that. Betson was simply out-played by Collins who was tireless both on defence and attack, and never gave an inch.

Based on the soldly planted forward effort the rest of the team joined in with an across-the-board devotion to duty. Nobody missed a single critical tackle, and the French were forced into running sideways, backwards, and then finally to booting the ball downfield.

By the final quarter, the massive crowd were booing their own team as they assembled to watch yet another conversion attempt by the almost flawless Daniel Carter, who is showing he is a natural first-five eighth now that the All Black coaches have given him the chance to shine there [please take note Super-12 and NPC coaches].

It isn’t often these days that we get to watch the All Blacks deliver on the All Black Traditions in the same way that they did in the amateur era of the game. Today they did just that.

Here’s to the start of another All Black legacy.

Congratulations to the All Black coaching staff and all the team.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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