I don’t really know much about rugby. I’ve only ever been to one rugby game, which was in 1990, when I wagged my fifth form typing class to see the Hillcrest High first XV play some visiting school. I remember being vaguely impressed by those “line out” things.
17 years later, I haven’t even watched a rugby game on TV. When I see one, it just looks like a bunch of guys running around on a grass field, and sometimes skidding over lines or kicking the ball into places that makes the crowds cheer.
But I’m a New Zealander. I live in New Zealand. And therefore I can’t not be exposed to rugby in some form. It’s everywhere.
And this year I was kind of getting into the Rugby World Cup commentary and discussion over at Public Address’s Some Foreign Field, and enjoyed I the lively podcasts from the lads (and occasional lass) at The Dropkicks and I was thinking that this whole rugby, All Blacks and Rugby World Cup thing might be worth getting into for entertainment purposes.
But, well, I didn’t get around to it, and now the All Blacks, aka “we”, have lost the quarter-final against France and everyone is really really bummed. Or something starting with F that Anton Oliver was bleeped saying on the news tonight.
I understand that the people of Aotearoa are angry with the ref for turning a blind eye to a forward pass and/or the coach for his controversial resting and rotation policy and/or the players for sucking. But despite all the misery (and, oh, there were some miserable people out there on the streets today), people aren’t giving up. They’re not saying, “Oh, we’ll never win the Rugby World Cup!” They’re saying, “Now it’ll be 24 years until we win the cup again!” There’s hope.
The thing is, New Zealand is the one country in the world where rugby union is the be-all, end-all sport. Other countries, like Wales and various Pacific Island nations, do like the egg-ball game, but most countries are hot for football. Only New Zealand has its national identity sewn up so tightly with rugby.
But what I don’t quite understand is why the Rugby World Cup is considered the last word in rugby supremacy. I mean, the Olympics are another quadrennial competition, but we don’t discount the non-Olympic sporting competitions – regional and word championships – that happen in the interim years.
And what happened prior to 1987 when there was no Rugby World Cup? Was there a niggling fear that perhaps, while the All Blacks were quite good, maybe they weren’t actually all that good? Not even!
I reckon if we can love New Zealand, if we be so nationally proud that we call New Zealand Godzone, then surely it’s enough to know in our Aotearoan hearts that the All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world regardless of how they do in any Rugby World Cup competition.
Winning the World Cup should be the icing on the cake, not a definitive statement on how good the All Blacks are.
Oh, cheer up.