Sunday, 23 October 2011

Arise Sir Richie! It was a tough fight but the right team won

By most reckonings New Zealand’s victory in the rugby world cup final last night should have been a mere formality.

The All Blacks were playing France, who they beat by 20 points in the pool stage of the competition, in front of a stadium of over 50,000 supporters at Eden Park, Auckland where they have not lost for 17 years.

They had been the most impressive team throughout the tournament by a distance, scoring 73 more points and 11 more tries than any other side. And they had just dispatched Australia, the world number two side and tri-nations champions 20 to 6 with a consummate display of all round skills in the semi-finals.

By contrast France had limped through to the finals, losing two pool games on the way, sneaking past Wales in the other semi-final by just one point after a controversial red card had left their opponents playing 60 minutes with 14 men.

But all New Zealanders, including the All Blacks themselves, approached this game with trepidation. France, unlike any other side, have the ability to lift their game for the big occasion, and in the 1999 and 2007 world cups had sent the All Blacks packing with inspired second half performances.

True to form, France lifted their game again for this final and, many would say, were perhaps unlucky not to have won. Instead they went down 8-7, denied by desperate All Black defence.

Like most Kiwis I found the whole experience unbelievably stressful. I felt elation at the end of course, but this was overshadowed by a feeling of profound relief.

After 24 years since the last world cup victory, the agony was finally over.

‘Not pretty’, as captain Richie McCaw said, but effective, and after all a win is a win.

This win makes it two-all for South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in world cups and is especially important for New Zealand because of the trauma the country has been through in the last year.

Just over a year ago an earthquake of 7.1, miraculously non-fatal, struck Christchurch on the same day that a plane crashed on the Fox glacier killing nine people. Two months later 29 died in the Pike River mining disaster and in February this year 181 died in a second Christchurch earthquake which destroyed most of the centre of the city.

On world scale these might not seem to be big numbers, but for a small country of 4 million people they were devastating. And the damage from the current ongoing oil spill from the stranded container ship Rena, off the North Island’s east coast, had added insult to injury.

In addition all New Zealanders felt the pressure to throw off our reputation for under performing at world cups.

New Zealanders are rubgy’s leading points scorers of all time and the only international team with a winning record against every test nation they have ever played. The All Blacks have held the top ranking in the world for longer than all other countries combined and in over 100 years only five of the top twenty ranked test rugby nations have ever beaten them.

New Zealand competes annually with Australia and South Africa in the Tri Nations competition, and has won the trophy a record ten times in its 16 year history. They have also completed a northern hemisphere Grand Slam four times (in 1978, 2005, 2008 and 2010), defeating all four Home Nations (England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland) during one tour. Ireland and Scotland have never beaten them.

They have won a record 75% of all rugby matches they have ever played since 1903 and they were named the International Rugby Board (IRB) Team of the Year in 2005, 2006, 2008 and a record fourth time in 2010. In the decade from 2000–2009, New Zealand won 100 Tests (82% winning percentage). They won 15 consecutive Tests at one point and recorded a world record 30 straight wins at home.

In view of New Zealand’s dominance, their lack of success in world cups has been one of the great mysteries of modern sporting history.

France was truly magnificent last night. By contrast, the All Blacks stuttered and probably put in their worst performance of the tournament, missing three out of four kicks at goal and having only 45% of the possession.

But the result was the right one for the country and for international rugby. Apart from captain McCaw, who has finally won in his third and last world cup, probably the happiest man on the pitch last night was New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who faces a national election on 26 November. Losing their third fly half in the tournament during the match made things even harder. But it was perhaps ironic that their fourth choice Stephen Donald, kicked the winning goal.

If the All Blacks had lost last night he could have effectively written off his chances. But now, with the change in national morale this victory will bring, perhaps he still has at least a fighting chance.


  1. Oh, come off it. New Zealand won only because all the decisions went in YOUR favour - they always go to the home team - the pressure from the crowds rooting for your country was too hard to resist, everyone knows that. Right result my arse - if you hadn't been the home team, it's very doubtful you'd have won. As it is, it was by the skin of your teeth. Not biased at ALL, are you Dr. Saunders?!

    Stop making out that France were rubbish - it doesn't matter how they did earlier, it was the final which counted, and you were lucky to win. I wouldn't crow so much if I were you. As for your earthquakes and all the rest of it - what does that have to do with anything, or the coming elections, for goodness sake? Get a grip, man. You were STRESSED and sleepless lest the All blacks should lose? For Pete's sake, it's only a game - you need to get a life. Don't get out much? Now's the time to start!

  2. Settle down Chris. This is just a blog written by a patriotic and rugby loving Kiwi whose birth city was destroyed in an earthquake this year.

    When your own beloved country (?England) suffers a natural disaster and then wins the world cup then you will probably feel some sense of pride and emotion and be able to write something nice about it on your own blog

    I slept very well before the game thanks and even better after it :-) although the game itself was admittedly a wee bit tense - but hey, that is all part of being a sports fan.

    As for life, it's pretty good thanks. I'm having a barrel of laughs.

    Cheers mate

  3. Glad to hear life is good. Sounded like it wasn't until you won the world cup! Barrel of laughs, eh? Well, good for you. As for my "own beloved country", I'm not as biased as you, thank goodness. Are you wishing a natural disaster on us just because of what I wrote? Shame on you. And btw, don't you live in England yourself? What with being CEO of the CMF which is based in England, and all. I wouldn't go wishing natural disasters on the country you have chosen to make your home. I don't have a blog but perhaps I should start one about gloating Kiwis with an inferiority complex and an inflated sense of their own country's importance! And I am quite settled, thanks.

  4. Nicely said Peter! You would have enjoyed being here for the tournament. Amongst the many highlights was the fun we had welcoming and hosting all our international guests and picking a team to support at all the non ABs games we went too. Anyone care for a spare Irish costume? (our school was given Ireland as our 2nd official team).

    You were so right about the positive lift it has given our nation (smaller than most big cities) to come together and just focus on fun for a few weeks - and to get a win was icing on the cake.

    The video URL below is to show you a glimpse of what you missed as a supporter ;)

  5. Chris, you have badly misinterpreted me. As well as being a New Zealand citizen I am also a British citizen (I have two passports) and have given 20 of the best years of my life to England. I love this country - but at heart I am still a Kiwi and an All Black supporter.

    I wish no disaster on my adopted home - how could I possibly? - what I meant was that if England had the grave misfortune to suffer a natural disaster like NZ has recently and then was to win a world cup you would probably feel some degree of pride and emotion about it. That is all.

    As for feelings of inferiority - well you clearly don't know Kiwis. We are small country yes indeed - but by the grace of God we punch above our weight in just about everything - and when it comes to rugby we are actually quite good in spite of our under performance at world cups. Gloating? Hardly. It's just a fact. And don't start me on what is good about New Zealand cos I'll never stop! I hope that one day you will have the good fortune of visiting.

    We love our national team and are very proud of what they have achieved. You need to accept that and move on.

    Thanks for the video Dorothy - I loved it.

  6. Why so hung up about Richie being knighted? You seem to be obsessed with recognition from the Queen. Do you really "love this country"? Doesn't sound like it, tbh.

  7. It's up to the queen whether she knights Richie - I'm sure Richie won't be bothered either way and neither will I.

    The Queen is Head of State of 15 Commonwealth realms in addition to the UK btw. She is also Head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 53 independent countries. She is not just the Queen of England.

    Re loving England, I have grown to love it. But of course not in the same way as I love New Zealand. And I don't support the English rugby team. Is that a problem?

  8. "Grown to love it" in much the same way you might "grow to love" someone you're forced to live or work with, whom you don't really vibe with but have to tolerate?! A mistress you use (who's provided you with employment for over 20 years) but have no time for except as second best? No-one expects you to love England in the same way - you shouldn't be so guilty and defensive. And I don't care that you don't support our rugby team - I wouldn't expect you to. I never said she is just the Queen of England, either - what's that about? I'm English and I know she's the head of the Commonwealth. Anyway, the ABs are one of the best teams around, and I don't grudge them their victory, even if the French did just as well. Cheers.

  9. James there is nothing to defend and certainly there are no feelings of guilt. Worry not.

    There are some things you just naturally love and there are others you choose to love.

    England is in the latter category for me. I wasn't forced to come here. I chose to.

    It's good though that you can acknowledge that the ABs are good. Many in this country sadly are not able to.

  10. I'm not worried, thanks! But the way you tell it, England sounds like a much-despised mistress - not someone you "naturally love" but someone you're "forced to love" since you use them for your needs, then discard as necessary. You chose to come here - of course. But you feel you have no choice but to love my country, having chosen to come here. Many of my countrymen are unable to acknowledge that the ABs are a good team? Really? Now THAT I find hard to believe. Almost all of them will give credit where it's due. Who are these folks anyway - your colleagues in CMF? You should shake off that massive inferiority complex you have. Being a good team doesn't necessarily mean you deserved to win the World cup, btw.

  11. I could have chosen not to love England but instead chose to love it. I was not forced. No inferiority complex. Proud to be a Kiwi and an All Black supporter.

    Re giving credit where credit is due my colleagues have been excellent along with the usual expected teasing which is all part and parcel of the banter.

    But some English journalists, commentators and many who write comments on articles and blogs are not as gracious and even handed.

    Btw do you mind my asking if you have ever lived and worked in a country not your own for a prolonged period?

  12. Yes, I have - what is your point?
    Any links or references to these jourmalists and commentators who are putting down the ABs? I'd like to see them before I comment.

  13. Where, when, what doing and for how long?

    Re journalists, (official) commentators and those others who comment they are everywhere. Search on google.

    Tom Fordyce on bbc blogs is a rare exception - - although the comments following his article give you a flavour of the usual responses.

    As I said in my article above the French were magnificent in the final whilst New Zealand stuttered. But the All Blacks historical record over the last 100 years is second to none.

  14. Over 20 years in the Far East and India - as well as brief periods elsewhere in the developing world.

    No-one disputes the ABs' excellent record - but historical records should not be the basis for a World cup win - don't you think?


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.