From adversity can come a World Cup winner

Last updated 05:00 07/07/2011

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Don't think that the All Blacks management team hasn't noticed, writes Mark Reason this week.

OPINION:  They are well aware that the two teams contesting this year's Super 15 final are both from regions devastated by natural disasters in the early part of the year. And the three wise men are certainly not fool enough to view it as a coincidence.

Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen have been scrabbling through the archives in an effort to define what makes a winning World Cup team. One of the things they have identified is hardship. Some countries have suffered more than others, but every team has come through a tough time on or off the pitch on their way to winning.

The ultimate symbol is South Africa in '95, the Rainbow Nation, holding out France with a goal-line stand in a stormy semi, beating a vastly superior New Zealand side in extra time in the final, pulling together a fractured nation that was trying to reconcile itself after the era of apartheid.

New Zealand's one winning World Cup team, if you can remember that far back, also emerged from discord. Rugby had divided the nation in the 80s. Eden Park had been flour bombed, the rebel Cavaliers had toured South Africa and been banned for two matches on their return and the Baby Blacks had emerged mewling from the chaos.

The World Cup brought people together as Brian Lochore opened training sessions to the public and took the calculated decision to billet his players with families out in the farmlands.

Of course the current New Zealand high command isn't daft enough to think that all the World Cup winning nations were able to draw on such extremes of hardship. But they have noticed that even the likes of England or Australia had either emerged from a poor season the year before or had to fight through some tough matches in the earlier parts of the competition.

The Crusaders and Reds are just endorsing the theory. It is easy to forget that back in January Suncorp Stadium was under water and kayakers were paddling past row 7. In 24 hours "The Cauldron" had become the Leaky Cauldron.

Wing Rod Davies, the modern day Rockhampton Rocket, manned the phones during the weekend telethon, seeking aid for a waterlogged town infested by snakes and mosquitoes. Brisbane was not as badly hit but 19 of the Reds took themselves out to a council site and handed out sandbags. The Faingaa brothers gave their first match fee to flood relief.

Quade Cooper tweeted: "Been out at Stafford depot all day filling, passing and packing sandbags. Best things is seeing how many people are turning up and helping." And what do you think the people thought about getting a sandbag on the end of a Cooper pass?

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The devastation in Christchurch was of course much worse. After driving home through the carnage Carter was soon out on the streets with a wheelbarrow and shovel. He said: "Just because you're an All Black, doesn't mean you're not going to get your hands dirty to help out when needed.

"Actually it was really rewarding. I didn't know my neighbours that well. Now I do because we've been working so closely together in the big cleanup. If there can be any positive to come out of such a disaster, it's the real fantastic sense of community which has built up."

In wartime London it was defined as the spirit of the blitz. The All Blacks management will tap into that feeling as part of their World Cup preparation.

The disappointment of 2007, Pike River, the Christchurch quake, more than ever before there is something for the All Blacks to play for other than themselves.

It worries me that the senior All Blacks have already banned Twitter – to much mockery from the Aussies – and outside media commitments. It shows that they have not yet understood the force for good that they are part of.

Carter stunned a lot of newspaper editors with his interview after the earthquake. He is not naturally so forthcoming. But with disasters comes a "glasnost" that is part of the healing process. The All Blacks need to understand that.

They should have rescheduled one of their World Cup pool games to the South Island and played a match for Christchurch. They need to open up to the nation.

Richie McCaw said after the Crusaders semifinal: "We made a decision when all the carnage happened at home that we wanted to stand up for all the people at home."

The All Blacks can make the same decision. It will help them win the World Cup.

» Mark Reason is a senior sports journalist formerly with the Times of London and Daily Telegraph in the UK. He now lives in Wairarapa and is a weekly sports columnist for Fairfax Media.

- The Southland Times


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