Shayne Philpott hits back at carping of critics

IF THE CAP FITS: Ex-All Blacks back Shayne Philpott with his cap.
DEAN KOZANIC/Sunday Star-Times
IF THE CAP FITS: Ex-All Blacks back Shayne Philpott with his cap.

Shayne Philpott is an All Black unlike any other.

Or should that be "was"?

Until a few days ago, Philpott, All Black No 895, had done his best to forget about his crowning achievement in life.

Most All Blacks are rightfully proud to the point of in some cases being pretentious about their past.

They're venerated while in their pomp, revered while retired.

However, Philpott is different.

Instead of being sanctified, he has felt mocked.

Despite playing 12 games and two tests for the All Blacks and possessing a rare ability to play just about any position in the backline, the knockers would have you believe he was some sort of clown or imposter.

One school of thought, Philpott has revealed, was that his selection had more to do with the supposed relationship his mother had with a powerful figure in the All Blacks machine.

The carping, which he could not stop himself from reading, finally wore him down this month. In a rare rash moment he put his All Blacks cap up for sale. He wanted to fully "disassociate" himself from being an All Black. The move was both sad and unprecedented. All Blacks don't cry much less fret about what other people think of them.

So the Sunday Star-Times asked asked Philpott for an interview. He went one better and offered to write how he felt. The process was cathartic. You can garner as much from reading the full extract, all 2600 words, online on Stuff.co.nz's RugbyHeaven website. The following extract gives you a taste of the hell he has lived through.

"The radio jibes and internet insults have been constant. The occasional beat ups on talk radio and the odd newspaper article always get back to me. Stuff written on the net about you suggesting you are crap or stuff that isn't even true. You might hear nothing for a year but then something else will come up. I've even seen blogs which suggested my mother had something to do with me getting selected. Some idiot reckons he saw me playing golf in an All Blacks tracksuit. Just crap like that had led me to more or less disassociate myself from the fact that I was ever an All Black. It was no longer a sense of pride. I am more proud of the fact that I won two club finals with Burnside and played 113 games for Canterbury."

Philpott threw away his invites to All Blacks reunions.

The same went for when the New Zealand Rugby Union held a series of ceremonies to award All Blacks retrospective caps.

The good and great turned up in their droves to revel in their former glory. Not Philpott. He had his cap sent to him in the mail.

"I didn't want to put myself in position that would open me up to anyone having another crack at me."

And last week the cap became his outlet.

The opprobrium became too much when his younger brother Hamish texted him.

"I had made the list of 'coaches pets' on Radio Sport, which I listen to almost every day. It really was the last straw. I was sick and tired of the constant crap that had been thrown at me over the last 20 years. I thought, 'screw it, I'll send the freaking cap to them and tell them to give it someone who deserves it'. Then I thought about putting it on TradeMe. I really didn't give a toss about it. I put it on at $3000 (the reserve was a lot more). I didn't know whether it would sell or not. I didn't really care. It wasn't a money thing (I made plenty in Japan) but I wasn't going to give it away for nothing either. I just thought about getting rid of it.

"I didn't think it was a big deal. It wasn't like it was John Lennon handing back his OBE."

Then an intriguing thing happened.

Philpott's actions drew a cascade of goodwill from admirers he didn't know he had. Messages of support and appreciation poured in. Philpott was touched and withdrew the cap from auction.

"I realise copping a bit of criticism comes with the territory and I'm not the only All Black who has ever been criticised. In fact, most have. But some of us get criticised more than others. Some blogs and chat forums I have read in the last few days though just confirm how nasty some people can be, both to me and to other past and present All Blacks. I'm not sure why these haters feel like they need to bring us down. Maybe it's their way of gaining recognition. I doubt whether a lot of these people would have even seen me play. All my All Black games were overseas and it is 16 years since I last played for Canterbury. Its clear a lot of them are just jumping on the bandwagon.

"I don't profess to having been a great All Black but I never doubted I was good enough to be one and I no longer care about what the bloggers write and I would really like to sincerely thank those who wrote the hundreds of messages of support on various websites. I am pretty sure I have read them all. It's nice to know so many people are behind you and respect your achievements, whether they think you were a good All Black or not."

Read Shayne Philpott's own words about his difficulties online on Stuff.co.nz's RugbyHeaven website.

Sunday Star Times