Do we take rugby too seriously?
OPINION: New Zealand Rugby takes itself very seriously. That, and the fact that it seems to think everyone else does also, are precisely why rugby can be hard to take seriously. To begin with, rugby is just another game of chase the ball, get the ball, put the ball somewhere special.
Yet Saturday's test match against England began with two national anthems; first God Save the Queen, then God Defend New Zealand, neither of which request appears necessary at this time.
God hasn't been this busy since He spearheaded the Republican-governed United States on a couple of post-9/11 invasions. As an aside, it would appear that the Democrats have wisely been less effusive about the warring causes to which God might lend himself.
Nevertheless, while God is regarded by many as something of an idle luxury, the same folk are happy to have him at a sing-a-long for a round of footy. Everyone looks solemn and while bleating, mumbling or barely lip-synching the words, the telly cameras focus on new caps to our team, who are also the players least likely to know the words to the tunes.
Out here in TV-public-land we are already cringing because we understand that the odds of a first-time guest anthem singer missing a note through nervous anxiety are 67:1, although the weekend's pair did pretty well.
The cameras found Buck Shelford in the crowd, prompting some to yell not simply "Bring back Buck" but also, "Go-on, get him, he's right there in the crowd! I bet he still brings his boots with him." Buck performed a pretty mean haka in his day but as that began anew some were wont to bemoan it and in exasperation at the ongoing ceremonial hoopla, utter "Do we really have to do all this every time the All Blacks play?" The answer is of course, "Yes - it seems we do."
The game itself got off to a pretty ordinary start with us kicking the ball, them trying to catch it and everyone having a meeting about that. Rugby is full of important meetings and conferences. The players have a meeting in a special room down a tunnel before the game but once the game starts they also meet at the side-line a lot, as well as big secret meetings in the field of play where they form a closed group with the other side to discuss things that are so important no-one else is allowed to hear, or even see their lips moving.
Anyway, after a few meetings and some running about two of the most notable features of the game emerged. First, Ma'a Nonu executed the worst midfield kick in the history of rugby, and second, everyone noticed that Nonu was still in the All Black team. In the period of play following we also learned that there were two Aarons and three people called Smith, which meant at times the commentary was: "Smith fires it out to Smith, a quick flick pass to Smith then back to Smith who's cleverly doubled back around to support Smith." The last time we heard confusion like that was the test against Wales, whose national team consists entirely of people called Gareth and whose surname is either Jones, Davies or Evans.
Not so with the England team, whose surnames are the stuff of traditional Anglo Saxon rugby heritage; names like Wood, Sharples, Lancaster, Wigglesworth and Tuilagi.
It is a little known fact that when, in the 1800s, William Webb-Ellis picked up the ball during a soccer game and ran off with it, thereby inventing rugby union, the first person he passed it back to was his school chum, Toby Tuilagi. The sport is now named after the school where this happened, Union School in England. An even more obscure fact is that Webb-Ellis was in fact a spoilt rich kid with two surnames, one for each of his left feet, who could only get into a game by being the only boy with his own a ball.
He was so fed up with the others not passing it to him that he was actually picking it up and walking off in a huff, giving rise to the expression "I'm taking my ball and going home" as a well known precursor to boxing's creation of new championship belts because the winners take them home and wont play anymore. Boy, sports facts sure are fascinating.
In the end it was a game of two halves. England really took it to us and they came to play. It wasn't always pretty but we stuck to our guns and played no-mistakes football, although, yeah, nah, our handling errors let us down.
We had a lot of go-forward ball but didn't always capitalise on our opportunities and we need to work on our finishing game.
It was a full 80 minutes and they never gave an inch, except when they did and we scored.
Arro's big call in the final minutes to tap and go was touch and go but fortunately Arro, Barro, Smitho, Jano and Kaino got over the line. All credit to England, they made us work for it. It's given us plenty to work on but we took a lot of positives from it. In the end, the team with the most points on the board was the winner and rugby was the winner on the day.
- The Timaru Herald