Greg Bruce searches for solace among the devastation by re-watching every All Blacks World Cup loss from 1991-2007.
Only through the practice of suffering can we learn how to suffer, so I forbade myself any respite. Things I would not fast forward through: fake injury breaks; Waltzing Matilda/ Swing Low Sweet Chariot; lingering shots of George Gregan, Eddie Jones, John Mitchell or Nelson Mandela; French chip and chases; long stretches of commentary in which interchangeably pretentious double-barrelled Australian private schoolboy names exchange smug passes.
It wasn't as hard as I expected to sit down in front of the 1991 semifinal, played at a clearly overcrowded, probably unsafe, Lansdowne Rd in Dublin. It felt so distant as to be almost unreal, full of players who are now historical afterthoughts and preceded by a poor haka.
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What surprised me was how little resemblance the game bore to the one I remembered. I knew David Campese collected a kick and threw a no-look pass to Tim Horan for a try in the corner that would come to define the match in our collective consciousness. What I didn't realise was how little that moment actually had to do with the losing of the match.
Each World Cup loss, I discovered, has been like this, an exercise in national myth-making - so many misleading narratives constructed and propagated, so many scapegoats unfairly cast. Bernie McCahill didn't play badly in 1991, nor did Mark Carter; and Campese wasn't brilliant nor unstoppable - a Michael Lynagh kick took a lucky bounce into his arms and he threw a good pass to Horan. Take that away and he was nothing special. Without that bounce and without a dodgy penalty against the All Blacks near the Australian line, the All Blacks might have won.
Jonah Lomu wasn't well-contained by the Springboks in the 1995 final. If he hadn't reinvented rugby one game previous, he would have been the obvious man of the match. Every time he got the ball, he broke at least one South African tackle and usually several. He threw brilliant offloads and ran for crazy metres.
We didn't lose that match because of food poisoning or because Nelson Mandela wore a Springboks shirt - we lost because Andrew Mehrtens missed four out of five drop goals, including one at the end of normal time, which would not have stretched a well-practised primary school player. We weren't helped by the fact Marc Ellis dropped two passes late in the game or by the penalty Mehrtens conceded when Glen Osborne was attacking hard in the South African 22.
We didn't lose to France in 1999 because Christian Cullen played at centre or because the French played "like men possessed". France won, by 12 points, because Christophe Lamaison kicked seven from seven while Mehrtens missed 12 points' worth of kicks, then missed a routine tackle leading to a French try, then threw an errant pass leading to another.
Ironically, after we lost to Australia in the 2003 semifinal, coach John Mitchell was criticised for not picking Mehrtens. His replacement, Carlos Spencer, was pilloried after the match, mostly because he threw a pass early in the match that led to an intercept try by Stirling Mortlock.
How about this for a counter-narrative? Midway through the second half of that match, the relatively unknown 23-year-old flanker Richie McCaw had been personally responsible for almost half the penalties against the All Blacks (wearing a bewildered look each time, like he was still learning the rules). What if someone had noticed that and Cheatin' Richie had been sacrificed like so much All Black man-meat before him?
In 2007, we lost because failed lawyer Wayne Barnes missed a forward pass.
I did much of the above technical analysis before the loss to England last weekend but I don't much care for it now. It feels like the whining of a child. I think I did it because it gave me the illusion of understanding, which gave me the illusion of control. That illusion has gone now, shattered by a loss I don't understand. Anyway, my counter-narratives, I know, are open to counter-counter narratives.
I don't know what narratives have so far coalesced around last Saturday's loss because I still can't face hearing about them but even if I could, they wouldn't help. Sport lends itself to the construction of theories - Great Captain Theory, Weak Lineout Theory - but sport is too rich in variables to be reduced to such simplicities. What if this? What if that? No one factor, no several factors even, can ever produce an adequate explanation of a sporting outcome, no matter how much we desire it. Our quest will always be for answers and the answers will never be enough.
"Quel match! Quel match!" shouted the French commentator, hoarse, near voiceless, at the end of the 1999 semifinal. That is hard commentary to listen to, even 20 years on. Losing doesn't feel nice. Why did we invent something ostensibly for fun and entertainment when it often doesn't feel nice? This is a species-level failure.
Presumably we believe competition is in some way valuable. I appreciate and understand that argument, even as exemplified in the failed project full of ruined lives that is late stage capitalism: economic competition leads to advancement and improvement and the ultimate desecration of the planet and all sorts of other things we value, like virtual reality helmets.
But is the improvement we've seen in the All Blacks over the past 32 years of sufficient value to justify the vast suffering their World Cup losses have inflicted? Look at it this way: I won't allow my kids to play musical chairs at their birthday parties and I care about them as much as I care about the All Blacks, probably more.
This might sound like I'm advocating the cancellation of the Rugby World Cup. That's because I am. The sooner the better. It's the only way.