NEW ZEALAND RUGBY
Forget for a moment the horror show in Sydney's west.
Forget the no-dimensional attack structures, the silly open-hand slaps as a substitute for genuine aggression and the naked fear of the loose ball.
Forget even the immediate future of under-fire head coach Ian Foster (though the "mythology" that laid the platform for his appointment will be dissected).
Be good losers and don't forget the role of Argentina. That's important, but the next 15 or so paragraphs are not where you're going to find a deeper meaning in the rise of Big Cat Rugby.
Instead, we need to talk about what this loss means for New Zealand Rugby in a wider sense.
It is not over-egging the pudding to say that the way NZR is set up, two losses presents an empirical crisis. The losses in and of themselves are not the problem, but what they might mean is – that being, the All Blacks are not very good.
The business model cannot cope with that. When you plug these two results into the Macbook that sits in the corner of chief executive Mark Robinson's office, the machine spits out a simple message: "COMPUTER SAYS NO!"
This model is Steve Tew's endowment to rugby. No matter where you input the numbers, the All Blacks don't just pay for rugby, they are New Zealand rugby. To be fair to Tew, as a means of countering the huge amount of money in the game in the north it might have been the only strategy, but it has side effects.
Youth participation among boys has plummeted, clubs are folding and merging at a rate never seen before, the NPC remains nothing more than a cost centre and Super Rugby is a pile of rubble waiting on another rebuild, but the All Blacks remain the gold standard.
For that strategy to be both effective and evergreen, the All Blacks have to be sold as more than just the best team on the planet. They have to have a back story; a mythology that can be converted into a brand and sold to broadcasters (penny for Sky's thoughts right now), multinationals and, shortly, private equity.
So the All Blacks are no longer just a squad of 30 or so extraordinarily talented footy players, they are also the keepers of a tradition. The jersey isn't just a strikingly monochromatic piece of sportswear, but a sacred skin that is borrowed, enhanced and passed on to future keepers of the cloth.
The team doesn't have tactics, it has values.
On a subconscious level we might have even taken comfort in the fact that while the world was going mad, the All Blacks were a constant, so for a decade or so we have lapped up this puffery. Scholars have written books about it and, as the undisputed best team on the planet, you can toss around words like "legacy" without fear of contradiction.
At the same time, this mythology insidiously works against you; it boxes you into corners.
Like at the end of 2019, for example. Lost in the debate about whether Foster was a better coach than Scott Robertson, or Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown for that matter, was the awkward fact that it couldn't afford to even be a debate.
Foster had spent the past eight years as a key character in the story. Not the key figure, certainly, but a key figure.
What message does it send if you look outside this well-thumbed Book of Lore for your next leader? Does it mean it was all a bit of a crock?
It's an awkward message at the very least.
This mythology becomes problematic on another level, too, because the very people who cannot afford to believe it start to: the players.
The simple truth is that the majority of these All Blacks are not as good as the ones who went immediately before them, but they have been fooled into thinking that winning the "jersey" is the endgame and that everything that follows from there is pre-ordained.
As a learned friend wrote to me on Sunday morning: "These All Blacks go out expecting to win. That is not their fault; that is the fault of management and the leadership of the organisation. This is what happens when your world order has been taught, not earned."
That's it in a nutshell, really, and it's also where it gets devilishly tricky.
That world order is the business model. NZR cannot afford to rebuild from the ground up. The All Blacks-as-underwriters-of-rugby paradigm is impossible to change in the short- or even medium-term. Success for the All Blacks can't be cyclical like it can for most teams. The next generation has to be able to plug in and play as well, if not better, than the last.
That's why you cannot write off the past 10 days as an aberration. The game here, to put it existentially, cannot afford for the All Blacks to be bad – not for a single season let alone a World Cup cycle.
"Teams" might be able to survive the rollercoaster nature of professional sport. "Brands" based entirely upon success cannot.
That's why two losses anywhere else in the world is either par for the course or a bit of a blip.
Here it is a full-blown crisis.
I've never known what to make of Pivac, the coach. During his first stint as Auckland NPC coach we "shared" a fraught and totally one-sided discussion that traversed two topics – the journalism ethics of a certain sports reporter and how that fed into the political machinations of the Auckland Rugby Union.
If he was that upset about a tongue-in-cheek observation in an early-season NPC match report, I thought, then he probably wasn't cut out for higher honours.
Which goes to show you what I know about coaching credentials and pathways.
Pivac has parlayed moderate successes at a number of destinations including Auckland, Fiji and Scarlets, into one of the most cherished roles in world rugby – coach of Wales.
And he's making a pig's ear of it. Wales were awful against Ireland on Saturday morning, with the fundamentals of rugby, and in particular the setpiece, looking beyond them. It was their sixth loss in the past seven internationals.
It was always going to be tough to follow Warren Gatland, who didn't so much coach Wales as create a piece of well-oiled machinery in his own image. His departure, and that of cantankerous defence coach Shaun Edwards, has left a void that cannot be replaced with a New Zealand passport alone.
There will be rumblings in the Valleys about Wales for the Welsh – Cymru i'r Cymry – and all that but it'll be costly. Pivac's contract takes him through to the World Cup in 2023. Any severance package will be lucrative.
Perhaps he is a genius after all.
STATE OF ORIGIN
Nobody watched Pt I; a few more watched Pt II but it was an embarrassment of a mismatch. It is fortunate the rubber is live for Pt III but we can take it as read that Covid-21 pending, they'll never play it as a season-ender again.
LOS PUMAS (PABLO MATERA)
Obviously. This was a great result for the sport and richly deserved for the guys who fall between the stools of northern wealth and southern historical dominance.
If there's one team most New Zealanders would not begrudge a World Cup it is Los Pumas, and under the current leadership group they might just have their best shot, though still a long shot, in France in three years.
Mario Ledesma's tears demonstrated his passion for the sport has not dimmed during his journey from the front row of the scrum to the front row of the coaches' box. The giant, misshapen chip on Michael Cheika's shoulders could be an important tool in the future, though you suspect the former Wallabies mentor has designs on lucrative head coaching roles elsewhere.
If possible, there's a bloke on the field who epitomises the Puma spirit more than Ledesma. Pablo Matera is a force of nature and that can be an issue at times. In the past, if there has been a particularly sharp shrill of the whistle, it was always a fair bet Matera was in the immediate vicinity.
The 27 year old can play though and he's clearly a born leader.
When Angus Gardner tried to admonish him for a few handbags early in the match, it was Matera's simple, impassioned "I'm representing for my country", that set the tone for everything that followed.
The next time the Pumas play the All Blacks at home in front of a crowd could be quite the occasion.
The man is a run machine and is so very obviously one of the best six red-ball batsmen in the country. Look at some of the clips from his latest mosaic at the Basin Reserve. Some of those cover drives he hits are collector's items yet he makes it look almost perfunctory.
The question is: Will he be required to put the pads on for the Blacks Caps in the first test of the summer?
My simple answer is I don't think the selectors will have the guts to do it after a couple of high-profile balls-ups in Australia last summer. They'll play it safe and I'm not sure you can blame them.
If you look dispassionately at the incumbent top six, there is no room at the inn at No 1 (Tom Latham), No 3 (Kane Williamson) and No 4 (Ross Taylor).
That leaves the second opener's spot (Tom Blundell), No 5 (Henry Nicholls) and No 6 (BJ Watling).
Nicholls' record gives him a bit of runway, as did scoring 87 on his birthday yesterday, so Conway is not going to tip him out. So cross No 5 off.
Here's where it gets potentially interesting (though I say this in the knowledge that the selectors will almost certainly take the path of least resistance).
You don't need two wicketkeeping allrounders in the side unless they are both demonstrably among the best six batsmen in the country. As good as they are, you cannot hand on heart say either Blundell or Watling are better than Conway.
Blundell did well as an opener during that clusterduck test series in Australia but he's a stopgap. The brave selection would be to bite the bullet and pick your best wicketkeeper batsman, and open with Conway against the West Indies.
You suspect the only way it's going to happen is if someone breaks a bone, though.
It's not my favourite sporting theatre by a long stretch but there was something quite melancholy and strangely beautiful about the course in late autumn without crowds. I liked it, I liked it a lot. Haven't said that about the Masters for a long, long time.
I'd like to raise a couple of points relating to recent red cards handed out in tests. First, people need to ask themselves, what is the purpose of the red card? In my opinion, it is primarily to discourage deliberate cheating or reckless play (that is of a higher magnitude than for normal penalty) in the hope it will cease to occur. Handing out red cards in situations where the play does not fit that profile is pointless and damages to the game. Second, people need to take into consideration the principle of low body position, and make more allowance for it in decision making around the contact area. In the case of the recent tackle [by Lachlan Swinton], Sam Whitelock has bent his knees and back in order to get lower when contact is made. The Wallaby has also bent his back and knees, but not as much as Whitelock. Leaving aside the debate over whether the Wallaby player is making enough effort to wrap his arms, neither player is doing anything wrong. Both players are doing what they have been correctly trained to do: trying to get as low as possible in order to win the collision. This situation will never change. About 50 per cent of the time the ball carrier will achieve a lower body position than the tackler and head contact may occur. However, if the tackler gets concussed no punishment will result. Whether it is union, league or gridiron, it is a part of the game that those playing it accept and all the red cards in the world will not change that. Much the same can be said of the other red card. Ofa Tu'ungafasi has bent his back and knees, while the other player is also looking to lower his body position in the hope of winning the collision. It's not a matter of mistiming or dirty play; it's just the laws of probability. Steve Bryce, Pakuranga
Two very separate issues here. The first I largely agree with. Red cards kill rugby. They should be reserved for the worst of the worst. There have got to be better ways of litigating high tackles. Perhaps the opposition captain gets the option of a kick from in front of the posts or a lineout feed from 5m no matter where the tackle occurred, but the slew of cards has got to stop.
The second point is contentious because despite the valid points about body position, the onus has to be on the tackler to avoid contact with the head. Simple as that. It's a coaching imperative. Go lower, go from the side. That the attacking player was lower than the defender is no longer a legitimate defence and with concerns about player welfare at the forefront, it never will be again.
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Sometimes it pays to remind ourselves how different the coronavirus experience has been for many others. This is a Covid tale told through a sporting lens. From the BBC.
Hornung is the only player to have won the Heisman Trophy (awarded to the best college American football player) on a losing team. He went from the famous Notre Dame programme to the iconic Green Bay Packers as the No 1 draft pick. He was a running back famous for his wild on- and off-field style. He was in fact suspended for the 1963 season for, get this, "associating with undesirable people". He died last week aged 84 and you probably don't need to guess what he died with but I'm going to tell you anyway: dementia.
Yeah I know, State of Origin has been a wash, but hey, it's meaningful footy, a decider and what else are you doing at 10.10pm of a Wednesday night.