Last week the newly appointed British Lions coach, Warren Gaitland, began the mudslinging a little earlier than usual for next year’s British Lions tour by criticising the Kiwi coach, the team and the Kiwi rugby public. Whilst anyone with half a brain cell must surely understand his comments were nothing more than the opening salvo in a psychological war which will rage for the next eight months did Gaitland’s comments actually have any merit?
- Anyone in New Zealand could coach the All Blacks?
Whilst I admit I wouldn’t be up to the job, Gaitland does have a point. The talent pool from which New Zealand can select their team is staggering in its depth and all of the players who progress to wear the Black shirt are natural rugby players who are able evaluate how a game should be played and are able to implement the strategies required. Allayed to the players is a structure of coaches who are responsible for different facets of the game and with this in mind it is fair to question whether Steve Hansen’s job is more to do with man management and the big picture, phrases which you associate more with briefcases and suits than tracksuits.
In addition to this you have to acknowledge that most of the top rugby playing nations currently are the weakest they have been in a number of years. Whilst Australia dismantled Gaitland’s own Wales, a result which says more about Wales than Australia, the Wallabies were truly awful earlier this year. South Africa only just managed a draw with the Barbarians and whilst Ireland are probably the closest challengers to the current England team in the northern hemispehere, they are nowhere near as good as they were a couple of years ago.
- Are Kiwis arrogant when it comes to rugby
The short answer is no, well at least the rugby public aren’t. I have attended many rugby matches here in New Zealand and the rugby going public can be best described as knowledgeable and fair. Yes, they know they are the best in the world but they like to see rugby played well and will freely admit when another nation plays well.
The problems arise when you take a step up the rugby pyramid and look at the administration and press around the All Black machine. Here, once more, they are extremely knowledgeable but there is a belief that the Kiwi way is not just the right way but the only way. In today’s sport there is a common misconception that to beat the best you have to play like the best which is why I suspect England used to be so loathed on these shores, we didn’t use to play the Kiwi way.
When you consider the press you also have to deal with the double standards which they employ, a high tackle is usually a certain red card if committed against the All Blacks whilst if the referee or TMO is lenient towards the Kiwis then they are often applauded by the commentators. I know this bias is prevalent throughout sport but in New Zealand it is mandatory and if the All Blacks lose it will continue to the end of time, just ask Wayne Barnes.
Being the best always brings a Fergie effect from the referees but is amusing how much column and air time is taken to justify the referee’s mistakes when they are in the All Blacks’ favour. An example occurred in New Zealand’s recent match against Australia when the Wallabies had a try ruled out for interference. After the referee had awarded the try, and whilst Bernard Foley was lining up to take the kick, the TMO intervened and pointed to an alleged infraction, which in the end Nigel Jones, the referee, was forced to accept against what appeared to be his better judgement. I say alleged because the Wallaby player should have rights to get on the outside of his player and in the end any obstruction did not stop the try being scored, yet I was forced to listen to the Kiwi commentators justifying the TMO’s decision for what seemed like the rest of the match. Thank god for the clowns otherwise I’d probably still be listening to it.
You may ask what the last point has to do with arrogance but my point is that the All Black media expect their view to be shared by the rest of the wold. The try should not have been allowed and the All Blacks would have won the world cup without the intervention of Wayne Barnes.
And then there is the implied criticisms, especially when the All Blacks are losing a game! If the Lions do, heaven forbid, look like they have a chance of winning count how many times a player is referenced by the country of his birth, as in Mark Vunipola the Kiwi born prop, even though the current All Black squad contains half a dozen Pacific Islanders and an Australian.
I have deliberately avoided discussing whether the All Black players are arrogant because as professional sportsmen they have to, by nature, contain a certain amount of arrogance in their make-up. Any sportsman must believe they are going to win otherwise what is the point of stepping onto the field of play?
So no, I don’t believe the New Zealand rugby public are arrogant and I think the All Black players have to be, but I do think Warren Gaitland is correct when you consider the media and personalities that hover like gadflies but unlike in Socrates’ time they have not the slightest interest in the truth.