John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: We're all national reps now

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The All Blacks are the best in the world ... but we also have to accept that knockout tournaments are unpredictable and the best can be beaten on the day. Photo / Paul Estcourt
The All Blacks are the best in the world ... but we also have to accept that knockout tournaments are unpredictable and the best can be beaten on the day. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Next week teams will be arriving accompanied by legions of rugby writers, broadcasters and the first wave of fans. Time is running out for a final quiet talk among ourselves - a team talk, if you will.

We are all national representatives now and there is something I wouldn't want visitors to hear because it sounds cocky, but it needs to be said.

We can aspire to something much higher than winning this World Cup.

The All Blacks are the best in the world. That is a fact that doesn't need further proof for anyone in the world except, strangely, us.

Everyone else will assume we all take Graham Henry's attitude to this fact. Henry clearly thinks it is not much use being the best unless you use that strength to take your art to a higher plane.

Rugby is a clumsy, bumbling game unless very fit and clever exponents are trained to operate together at spectacular levels of pace, precision, vision and adventure.

Henry has developed a team not just to win the Cup but to win it well. In fact he gives the impression he is not much interested in winning it unless he can win it well.

That was certainly so before the last World Cup and it is to hiseternal credit if it remains so, despite the controversy over his re-appointment and the pressure he faces now.

When the names Cory Jane and Zac Guildford were read out this week, their selection spoke louder than Henry ever does about his intentions.

I am in awe of the man, knowing as he does the prevailing view in this country. Go to any number of so-called rugby fans and just about all will say they don't care how he wins as long as he wins the damned thing this time.

That is what I need to talk about before the guests get here.

This desperate need could be a national embarrassment. Guests who haven't been here before probably imagine we are mentally secure. The New Zealanders they have seen are All Blacks.

They know they are coming to the game's apogee, the place in the world where it is the unrivalled national sport and finds its best expression. They know its reservoirs of excellence here, not only by the teams they see on television but by the many fine players who come as professionals to play in their competitions.

Cup visitors will be looking forward to seeing the place that produces them.

I'd like to think they'll find a country of amiable, modest people, quietly aware of their record at this sport but ready to respect the efforts of others to play it and eager to see how they go.

I have known New Zealanders like this, good rugby players and their families. I wish all the New Zealanders World Cup visitors will meet would be like this but I'm worried. We have not shown the slightest interest yet in the teams that will be coming.

Like ours, they were finalised only this week but, even so, we might have heard or read something by now about notable players and the state of the game in the various countries attending.

We've been talking only about the All Blacks and the dreadful possibility they might not win.

To stake so much on a knock-out tournament is ridiculous.

The appeal of the format is unpredictability. The best can be beaten on the day, especially in a sport that depends so much on an umpire.

Rugby is bedevilled by rules that hardly anyone understands, which referees have to apply at high speed in fractions of a second. They always miss a lot of offences and see some that television replays show to be dubious or negligible.

Rugby appeals to my Celtic sense of law that says rules are less important than the purpose they are supposed to serve. Rugby rules are intended help the play flow and produce a spectacle.

But the Germanic view of law is quite different. We are going to be hosting a barmy army of Anglo-Saxons over the next eight weeks. They will be good fun off the field but, when games are on, they'll howl at the injustice of everything a good referee ignores.

They're accustomed to a contest of scrums and penalties. Be patient with them. Despite themselves, they'll love the spectacle we can produce.

Henry is developing a team that looks so good, so quick and accurate and resourceful that it might adapt to any referee and inspire every team in the tournament.

But please don't speak of any of this when the guests get here. Be the New Zealanders they expect and, when we win with rugby from Heaven, pretend we had aspired to nothing less.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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