Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: Why Steve Hansen's dropped pass will hurt his old mate Tew

By Dylan Cleaver

All Blacks captain Kieran Read stunned after Ireland scored one of their five tries in Chicago. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks captain Kieran Read stunned after Ireland scored one of their five tries in Chicago. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Just when Steve Tew needed Steve Hansen most, the avuncular coach left the CEO at the altar.

We've had a few days now to scroll through the memes, post magnanimous Facebook messages to imaginary Irish friends, put the Wolfe Tones LP you last listened to back in '79 on the turntable, discover the turntable no longer works, re-watch The Commitments and generally enjoy the craic.

The laughter will ring hollow at New Zealand Rugby's Thorndon lair, though. In this annus horribilis - and even that might be one 'n' too many - the one thing NZR had going for it was the All Blacks. Chicago was their shop window; their chance to show off the world champion, near-unbeatable All Blacks in front of perplexed AIG employees in one of the greatest cities on Earth.

And Hansen, that most reliable of employees, fluffed his lines by becoming, as the Americans might say, the losingest all-time New Zealand coach against Ireland.

As fluthered as the All Blacks looked, and in the first half they made a holy show of themselves, it was a nonsense that it has taken more than a century for a team consistently ranked in the top eight of world rugby to beat the All Blacks. It had to happen... someday.

It's just the timing couldn't be worse.

Just look at the year.

Super Rugby continues to be a twisted joke, a Frankenstein's Monster of a competition that throws up more anomalies than classic intercontinental encounters.

Any romance that came with the Hurricanes lifting a first title was lost in the fog of the Chiefs' Mad Monday celebrations that spawned both homophobic slurs and, at best, some really questionable treatment of a woman attempting to carry out her professional duties.

The subsequent furore and 'investigation' into Strippergate showed New Zealand Rugby to be tone deaf to any stakeholder outside Gallagher Group executives and Radio Sport talkback respondents.

The Olympic men's sevens campaign was a completely avoidable, slow-moving car crash that harmed the All Blacks brand in ways we fail to grasp inside this 15s-obsessed bubble.

Nobody went and watched the once mighty NPC.

Chances are that less folk watched it on telly as previous years, mainly because NZ Rugby is locked into an exclusive broadcasting agreement with a platform that is struggling to maintain subscribers.

Losi Filipo's big night out. This was a tough one for NZ Rugby and in many ways they were in an invidious position. When it comes to situations like these, however, they have shown time and again that they are incapable of adopting positions of empathy as anything other than a last resort. That one is surely down to the CEO and the culture he has created. As Irish outhalf George B. Shaw would have put it: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself."

Aaron Smith's poor choice of away venue. Try as I might, I just couldn't get outraged, titillated or anything above mildly interested by that story. Judging by that increasingly desperate measure of public engagement - the unique browser - hundreds of thousands of others could. Smith's contrition seemed genuine but you cannot help but wonder, especially after his terrible performance against Ireland, whether the damage done might be long term.

Which leads us back to Chicago.

In less strained times, losing a test-match to deserving opposition is not disaster by any stretch, but for Tew, whose leadership has never looked so tired or tenuous, it must have felt like another slow leak. No matter what calamities have befallen NZ Rugby, Tew has always had the All Blacks - the marvellous, world-travelling, untouchable All Blacks.

They're NZ Rugby's lifeblood, his meal ticket. Tew, more than Hansen, needed this unbeaten year.

So, to borrow a line from Murphy's Law, "If anything can go wrong, it will at the worst possible moment."

***

The Herald had the chance to sit down and talk cricket with Mike Hesson this week, some of the themes that will be explored in more depth by Andrew Alderson and Wee Davy Leggat in the coming days.

Of particular interest to me, given this graphic illustration of home advantage last week, was that Hesson is a big proponent of abandoning the toss and giving the away side first option. It might just be the only thing that bridges the increasingly stark East-West split.

***

Ian Chappell looks like the village idiot after his ridiculous comments on South African quick bowler Kagiso Rabada, but in truth it has been a long, slow decline for the acerbic commentator.

THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

Just terrible.

It's not Wright Thompson's finest piece, but then again, sometimes his less great pieces, like this one on the Cubs, reach places most mortals only dream about.

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