OPINION: Andrew Mehrtens was the one who let the slippery little cat out of the bag.
If there was one team the All Blacks hate to lose to, it's England, he told assembled media hacks. His reason was simple. Nobody stuck it to a beaten side after a game the way the English did.
Other All Blacks turn as shy as Bambi, and steer away from similar public statements, but there are actually any number of reasons why England irritates New Zealand rugby men.
Here are eight:
One. The British Empire is long gone, Britannia doesn't rule the waves, and there hasn't been a Colonial Office in London since 1966. So someone should whisper to the people running English rugby that calling yourselves The Rugby Union, and not the England Rugby Union, is really tantamount to having the word "wanker" tattooed on your forehead.
Two. Many will have heard the old joke about a club rugby team so bad they did a lap of honour when they won the toss. To be fair to the 1998 England team the players didn't do that, but they came close. To the astonishment of the All Blacks, England took a lap of honour after a test in Manchester was drawn, 26-all. "It was peculiar," Anton Oliver said later. "They did a lap of . . . what . . . relief?"
Three. They sent off Cyril Brownlie. Yeah, I know it was 1925, and none of us were there, and there's no video of the incident, so anyone who says confidently he stood on a leg is an idiot, and I can't say he didn't either. But they sent him off at Twickenham, the first person ever ordered off in a test, and that's enough to be grumpy about.
Four. Now and again they get good enough to beat us. You can put up with a lot of hot air from a useless side, but as recently as 2003 England beat the All Blacks in Wellington. Worst of all, they had two guys sinbinned, and against just six men, the All Blacks eight couldn't get a pushover try. No All Black has ever known what a winning Irish or Scots team is like, and no All Black for nearly 60 years has had to see how a winning Welsh team behaves.
Five. They've had some dirty buggers play for them. Yes, I know we're supposed to be the lowlife scum on the paddock, but in Danny Grewcock, England not only had a man with one of the worst names in the sport (only rivalled by Ebbo Bastard of South Africa and Jean Condom of France) but a serial head kicker too. He copped five weeks for kicking Anton Oliver at Carisbrook, and six weeks for kicking Dan Carter.
Six. They're sensational hypocrites. Danny Grewcock was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby.
Seven. Their media hacks are lousy comedians. Stephen Jones tries, but, as an English colleague of his once told me, "Stephen's psyche is so twisted the poor man is Welsh, and he's a fanatical England supporter." The only really funny English writer was the dyspeptic John Reason, who leavened his displeasure over all things All Blacks with political views so hysterical it was impossible not to laugh. During the 1981 Springboks tour he compared the Christchurch Press to the Soviet Union communist paper Pravda, and suggested that the best thing about the 81 tour was that it gave our cops the experience they'd need when they later faced the social terrorists at the heart of the anti-tour movement. "They don't have machine guns yet. But they will. They will." I am not making any of this up.
Eight. Every now and again they're so tricky they produce a genuinely good bloke to keep us off balance. Such a man is Bill Beaumont, who the NZRU backed to head the IRB. Beaumont is as unassuming as the day is long. As just one example he tells how, when a buxom topless woman ran on to Twickenham during a test in which he was captaining England, one his players said to him, "Bill, don't look now, but there's a woman on the pitch with your bum strapped to her chest."
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