The All Blacks’ magic and myth

The All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia on Saturday was not the summer solstice, a holy day or the dawn of the age of enlightenment.

It was a poor performance over fatally flawed opposition, aided and abetted by a South African referee who has clearly not yet come to terms with the principle of equality.

Let’s start with Tom Taylor, because in some ways the young man stands as a metaphor for the relentless publicity that is part of the All Blacks genius.

Reading about Taylor before and after the game, I was nearly fooled into thinking I had just seen the reincarnation of Barry John. The reality was nearer to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the line, ”He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.

Taylor has a great deal of ability, but Steve Hansen’s foolhardy gamble of playing the kid at first-five with almost no football in that position this season could have cost New Zealand the game.

Taylor was out of his depth defensively, not sure whether to stay or go. He frequently dog-legged, and his flimsiness in the tackle made it hard for Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw to decide whether to press or hold back.

Taylor was the passive tackler when Stephen Moore offloaded to Christian Leali’ifano in the first half and he was brushed aside by Israel Folau in the second. On both occasions Australia would have scored but for deliberate New Zealand infringements.

They were far from the only times that the Wallabies exploited his channel. Taylor’s restarts did not offer the chance to win back possession and his kicking out of hand was mediocre.

But because of a couple of lovely passes near to the gain line and a half-break at the start of the match (from which he was turned over by Michael Hooper), the lad was anointed.

Taylor may well turn out to be a fine player, but as yet he is nowhere near an international first-five. But the All Blacks are the Muhammad Ali of international rugby; a team where excellence and myth merge to the point where the stigmata become invisible.

McCaw has been another good example during the opening games of the Rugby Championship. The master has been clearly outplayed by Hooper, Australia’s outstanding player, but no-one will admit it.

Well, McCaw might, because you don’t become one of the all-time greats without knowing when you are not match-sharp and a yard off the pace.

In Saturday’s game, McCaw was frequently beaten to the breakdown, he was a yard off covering Taylor’s inside shoulder and he knocked on a couple of balls he would normally haul in, blowing good attacking opportunities.

That’s fair enough. Even McCaw can’t come back from a sabbatical and play like Michael Jones. But Hansen would have you believe he has done just that. The man and the myth is an important part of the All Blacks psychology.

It is even more extreme in the case of Nonu. The guy who struggles in Super Rugby becomes a different player when he pulls on an All Blacks jersey, we are told. It’s the Frank Bunce story, or is it George Bernard Shaw – Man and Superman?


On Saturday, Nonu should have been sin-binned – at least – for a dangerous shoulder charge into the head of James Slipper. He turned over ball twice. He scrambled a poor kick out of defence with an overlap outside. He kicked another ball out on the full. And he threw the intercept pass for Folau’s try.

These are exactly the sort of blunders that have cost the Blues and the Highlanders in recent seasons. But because the All Blacks were good enough to win despite Nonu’s howlers, they are airbrushed out of history.

The All Blacks don’t admit the big mistakes in public unless the unthinkable happens and they lose. Then confession is called for. There were others in this New Zealand team who under-performed on Saturday.

Israel Dagg kicked out on the full, missed a tackle, put his wing under pressure with a daft throw-in, but one good break and the country looks the other way. The hooker position is an ongoing problem, and Aaron Smith did not kick well from the base. But the myth must be perpetuated.

It intimidates other teams, although Australia look quite capable of intimidating themselves at the moment. Some of their tackling is feeble and they are quite hopeless at fielding short, high kicks in midfield.

More importantly, the myth intimidates refs. This millennium, New Zealand have received 46 cards in 166 tests. South Africa have copped 77 in 164 games. Are the Boks really nearly twice as evil?

The Aussie coach was right to be apoplectic on Saturday evening. Why was Moore’s ”try” not referred? Why was Kieran Read not yellow-carded for a professional foul? Why was Nonu not yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle? Why were the All Blacks’ tacklers and defenders repeatedly allowed to take so long getting back that they blocked Will Genia’s blindside channel?

That was coached cheating again, by the way. Why was Ben Smith allowed to stand offside in front of the tryline to make a crucial defensive tackle? Why was Tony Woodcock allowed to angle in, but not Australia?

The penalty count should have favoured Australia in the first 50 minutes, but New Zealand led it 12-5.

Sir Graham Henry would have suspected perfidy or a betting scandal in such circumstances. The rest of the world just thinks, ”Same old”.

The magic and the myth.

– © Fairfax NZ News

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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