By Gregor Paul in Dublin


The All Blacks must feel a little like the Gruffalo whenever they venture North.

They are, so it seems, the central, mythical character in a bed-time story that international rugby coaches read to their players while tucking them in for the night.


Up here, the All Blacks are very much portrayed like the Gruffalo...a scary, terrifying beast with a big wart on their nose, prickles all over their back and consumed by truly bad intentions.

Everyone has a story about the All Blacks – a clear memory of them committing some kind of atrocity in the past that went unpunished.

Stretching back into the mists of time there will be someone from the Home Unions who can recall an act of thuggery or cheating that saw the All Blacks end up victorious.

And piece-by-piece, year-by-year the narrative of the All Blacks as talented but tainted has become stronger.

The respect for them becomes ever more begrudging as this overwhelming sense of them relying as much on crass acts of violence as innate skill takes an ever greater hold.

No one in the Northern Hemisphere is willing to buy into the idea that the All Blacks success is built on hard work and ingenuity. Not exclusively certainly.

There's an acceptance those qualities are there, but in the last week, there has been a strong reminder of this underlying conviction that the English and Irish have that the All Blacks are separated from the pack by their willingness to cross the line of what is acceptable and somehow manipulate or intimidate referees into letting it happen without consequence.

The English aren't making peace with the decision last week to disallow Sam Underhill's late try which probably would have won them the test.


The prevailing view appears to be that both the process and outcome were wrong. Who would know about the former given the vague and confusing protocol that is being trialled, but there can't surely be any debate about the outcome?

New Zealand's Kieran Read lifts the Sir Edmund Hillary Shield. Photo / Getty Images.
New Zealand's Kieran Read lifts the Sir Edmund Hillary Shield. Photo / Getty Images.

Courtney Lawes was offside. Not by as much as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said, but enough for it to be deemed clear and obvious.

Not liking a decision doesn't actually make it controversial, just unpopular and the curious thing in all this is that the rightful indignation in the wake of what was good refereeing is the contrast it makes with the reaction to the end of the Lions' series last year.

At the end of the third test the All Blacks were denied a kickable match-winning penalty from a clear and obvious offside.

Both the process and outcome were wrong when the decision was reversed without justification and yet the British saw nothing, said nothing.

All was good with the world because the Gruffalo had been smacked on his warty nose and this is how it is – the world only sees what it wants to see when it comes to the All Blacks.

History when written by the vanquished will only record the parts it likes and suit the story they want to be told.

And the All Blacks being shafted by a referee is not a story that the Northern Hemisphere wants to be told.

Brodie Retallick of New Zealand breaks with the ball during the Quilter International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham. Photo /
Brodie Retallick of New Zealand breaks with the ball during the Quilter International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham. Photo /

Likewise the noises coming out of the Irish camp this week have suggested they are still simmering about the nature of their last test with the All Blacks in 2016.

The Irish feel like they were relentlessly assaulted and the victims of multiple acts of violence. That the All Blacks stepped over the mark at times is not disputed but Ireland's victim status is.

They hardly went all shrinking violet and Johnny Sexton was equally deserving of a red card as Malakai Fekitoa for elbowing Beauden Barrett in the back of the head early in the game and then tackling him round the neck 10 minutes later.

But it is easier for Ireland to believe the reason they lost that day was because they were victims of foul play and weak refereeing.

They riled the Gruffalo in Chicago and brought out his even darker side a couple of weeks later.

Ireland have justified the loss to themselves on the grounds they couldn't legally contain the Gruffalo's fury and hence they settled for the moral rather than the actual victory.

That's the bed time story rival coaches want to be reading out loud – this way no one need confront the possibility that the Gruffalo isn't real but a figment of their collective imaginations.

Because if the Gruffalo isn't real, how else can the All Blacks' dominance be explained?

If he's real then Ireland can come into the test this weekend believing that there will be a point somewhere in the game that the All Blacks will be willing to go and they won't.

The nature of the Gruffalo is such that he is a figure without remorse or a working moral compass. He's destined to be enslaved by his evil intentions: do anything to win.

And of course even if Ireland could find it within themselves to cross that line, they wouldn't get away with it.

The All Blacks have mastered how to be deeply cynical and yet simultaneously charming to be able to persuade officials to let them off with each and every heinous crime.

If nothing else, it is a good story. And like many of the best stories, it is devoid of truth and in this case, devoid of value to those who insist it is true.

Portraying the All Blacks' commitment to win as beyond reasonable doesn't harm their legacy at all.

It only serves to give those who believe it a ready-made excuse for falling short.

Half the time you wonder if the All Blacks have already won a test before kick-off – their reputation having done untold damage in the build-up.

It continues on a superficial level to irk the All Blacks that they tour the Northern Hemisphere to this chorus of malcontents writing history to suit their own end.

Yet on a deeper level they couldn't care less for it keeps them strong, their opponents weak. It keeps them parked in their opponent's heads and Ireland may already be doomed this weekend because they have spent too long thinking about what the Gruffalo did to them the last time he was in Dublin and with it, they may have hatched a plan to exact revenge rather than victory.