When a win's not a win
To the victor goes the spoils? Not always - just ask the All Blacks after France made off with the silverware.
The communication breakdown that cost the All Blacks the Dave Gallaher Cup and marred their meritorious 14-10 second-test win over France at Westpac Stadium has taken on an embarrassing hue.
It has emerged that the prestigious trophy has hung on points differential when contested over two tests since its inception in 2000, but that the All Blacks coaches found out just days before Saturday's series decider.
They then chose not to tell their players they would need to win the test by six points or more in order to lift the silverware, which included the Gallaher Cup and the less important Stralis Cup.
Replacement halfback Piri Weepu summed up the thoughts of most when explaining the feeling in the All Blacks dressing room.
"I think it is [bollocks]," he said after the match. "To come out here tonight and for the boys to guts it out and come away with the win, then to find out afterwards that you lost the trophy is pretty stupid.
"We thought we'd done the hard yards . . . and then to find out we were two points away from retaining it . . . "
France, having won the first test 27-22, took the trophy by the narrowest of margins - 37-36.
Weepu ended the match by kicking the ball into the stands from a scrum and clearly did not feel comfortable with relinquishing a trophy without more of a fight.
"I probably wouldn't have kicked it out. I would have kept it in hand and tried to get the two points we needed," he said.
"Obviously we weren't told about the six-point margin, but I guess we need to be more prepared.
"I guess most of the boys thought it would be like the Bledisloe Cup where you need two wins to take it off the team that's holding it."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the decision not to tell the players about the points differential had been in the best interests of the squad.
"We didn't pass that information on. We thought it was important they [the players] concentrate on the test match and didn't need that extra information that could put extra pressure on a side that's relatively young."
Henry's assistant Steve Hansen revealed yesterday that the coaching staff had learnt of the competition rules only in the days before the match.
"I think we got told on Thursday. I'm not sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday, but that's irrelevant," he said. "We just knew we needed to win a test match.
"We thought that [winning by six points] would be a bonus. The state of the side at the moment and where it is, we felt as coaches rightly or wrongly that is what we needed to do: get out there and make sure we play well and win the test."
Asked if he had ever heard of a test series decided on points differential, Hansen said: "No I haven't, but that's irrelevant. We get to play them in November, so we just turn it into a three-match series now and hopefully go over there and do the job and win it back."
The Gallaher trophy was introduced to honour the man who captained the touring Originals to Europe in 1905 and was killed at Passchendaele during World War I.
It is hard not to feel for the current All Blacks coaches with the odd series-deciding rules put in place by mutual agreement between the New Zealand and French rugby unions nine years ago.
But though it seems bizarre for a test match to have anything other than a win as the major motivation, France coach Marc Lievremont was clearly not fussed.
"The feeling is a feeling of pride," he said. "The All Blacks said they had lost the battle but they were going to win the war. I think having won the trophy, we won the war."
The Dominion Post