Not exactly the headline you’d expect to hear after the All Blacks smashed the Springboks this past weekend. With the circumstances of the victory shrouded in controversy you would expect this article to follow suit and bemoan what was a disgracefully poor performance by the officials whilst pointing a finger at the ineptitude of the IRB. This is not where my spotlight falls, however, as I would prefer to look at a worrying trend which is creeping into the All Black setup: cynicism.
It would be easy to think that this is purely a case of sour grapes and perhaps these thoughts would be justified if this was an isolated incident. Unfortunately this is not the case. For some time now I have begun to pick up on incidents which occur during the All Blacks matches which have left me quite disillusioned with New Zealand rugby.
Although I am a Springbok supporter to the bitter end, I have always admired the style of play instituted by the All Blacks and the franchises within their union. Running rugby appeals to me as it is the beautiful game at its entertaining best. I am more likely to watch the All Blacks take on France than the Australians play Ireland, for instance, as the potential to see tries scored through running rugby are that much higher. Chances are that the All Blacks match will be of a better entertainment value than the Aussie match. Furthermore, in my books the All Blacks have always represented something of a moral compass in terms of fair play on the pitch. Sure they play hard and push the boundaries of what is legal but chances are you will never see an All Black playing dirty and intentionally transgressing the laws in a cynical manner. Until now.
In recent seasons a trend has developed within the All Black defensive structures: when on the back foot and especially when in their 22, they kill the ball. Hands in, entering from the side and not rolling away are a certainty in this area of the field for the AB’s and it would seem that giving away 3 points is a better option than a potential 7. If killing the ball completely is not an option, they slow things down by lying all over it until their defenders have backtracked to rejoin their defensive lines, thereby killing any momentum the attacking team had generated prior to the breakdown. Whilst handing 3 points – rather than 7 – is technically a smart call, it is as cynical as it comes on a rugby field and boarders on professional foul play.
What is most frustrating about this situation is that for whatever reason officials fail to ping them for these – often repeated – transgressions and this only adds fuel to what is fast becoming a raging ‘the IRB protect the All Blacks’ fire.
For the umpteenth time this season, Ma’a made a high, late hit without the use of arms on an opposition player. His constant disregard for the safety of opposition is an absolute disgrace to the black jersey. Yes this is a contact sport and yes people do get hurt but let’s be honest, Jean was lucky to walk away from that one. He didn’t see the hit coming because he had passed the ball and therefore didn’t expect to be hit. His body was therefore not prepared for the trauma and experienced a degree of whiplash which certainly resulted in his spine feeling slightly sensitive the following morning. This sort of contact can jolt the body far greater than a head on tackle and often result in graver injuries. Ma’a deserved the yellow card yet what left me flabbergasted was that he was not cited after the match. Surely if a player continues to commit the same foul over and over, greater punishment should be brought down upon them? What – in my opinion – is of the highest disgrace for New Zealand rugby in this regard, is their coach’s constant justification of these shoulder charges. Steve Hansen should hang his head in shame.
The AB’s really let themselves down in terms of milking the ref as they were found rolling around on the floor on numerous occasions like a bunch of Italian soccer stars. Yes a good team – and perhaps more importantly a good captain – knows how to work a ref so that decisions go their way, however their performance on the night was laughable. This is perhaps one of the first times that I have seen milking in a black jersey of this nature with Liam Messam taking top honours on the evening. It’s pathetic at best. Yet worrying still is the ease at which the officials fall into the trap. As Hansen put it “rugby isn’t a game of tiddlywinks.” Man up.
Is this truly how the All Blacks have committed to playing their rugby? Do they shy away from the physical encounter to such a degree that they need the officials to protect them? Are their defensive structures so poor when under pressure that they resort to professional fouls to get them out of trouble? Is thuggery an accepted aspect of their play promoted – and justified – by their coaching staff? My opinions of All Black rugby is on its way downhill at the moment.
You stay classy.