Rugby Union / Tour Report: Too many black marks for the All Blacks: Despite their efforts the 1993 New Zealanders depart beaten and largely unloved. Steve Bale reports

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WHEN Wayne Shelford's unbeaten 1989 All Blacks departed these islands, people who had been insisting they were only human had begun to wonder if this were in fact so. How different it is in 1993: Shelford's successors were beaten only once but were exposed as all too human, with all the frailties associated with mere flesh and blood.

It has been a more contentious two months than the New Zealand management are even now prepared to acknowledge. England's 15-9 victory at Twickenham was bad enough, though the Blacks were as gracious in defeat as they had been magnanimous after their record win over Scotland.

But what sent them on the way home to a chorus of good-riddances, led by the England captain, Will Carling, rather than good wishes were the incidents which injured Philip de Glanville and Kyran Bracken. Especially in the case of Bracken, justice was not seen to be done and, whether they liked it or not, the Blacks went away unloved.

They did not like it, and after the Barbarians had been beaten 25-12 in last Saturday's tour finale Laurie Mains, the New Zealand coach, bridled at the suggestion that his was a dirty team. But bearing in mind the slyness with which Jamie Joseph had trampled on Bracken's ankle, it was disingenuous in the extreme for Mains to retort that the only 'incident' of the tour, the footwork which left de Glanville with 15 stitches in his face, had been accepted by one and all as an 'accident'. Not so, and anyway, what about Joseph?

Still, one can understand Mains's frustration. The All Blacks came with the aim of winning not only their matches but also friends. Their charm offensive, orchestrated by their own, accompanying PR man, was both long overdue and quite successful. Where it lamentably failed was over the Joseph / Bracken affair, a gratuitous off-the-ball foul by the All Black flanker which was inexplicable and perpetrated by a player with a history of similar misdeeds. When the management said he would be disciplined but then did not say how, they - not the media that pursued them - soured the tour's final week.

This was as ill-timed as Joseph's offence, because the memory left behind of Sean Fitzpatrick's All Blacks is the exact opposite of the user-friendly image they had worked so hard to create. Had they had the gumption to announce Joseph's punishment, the situation would have been largely defused.

All of which goes to show there is nothing new under the sun, or at least not since Cyril Brownlee was dismissed playing for New Zealand against England in 1925. For 42 years Brownlee was the only player ever sent off in international rugby - until Colin Meads, another All Black, followed him against Scotland in 1967.

The difference this time was that the Blacks made such efforts to please. Much good, in the end, it did them that they were mostly affable, easy-going and approachable, not to mention highly-gifted players. But even if the shockingly adverse result at Twickenham outweighs the 12 victories put together, including the 51-15 annihilation of the Scots, there is a team taking shape which we may be sure by the 1995 World Cup will be good and experienced enough to be champions.

Indeed, even in the wake of the defeat by England, Mains insisted that the only thing that had blown his rebuilding plans off course was the first-Test defeat by Australia last year. 'All Black rugby can look ahead to the next two years with a lot of optimism,' he said.

Probably. Except that the one thing England did not only for themselves but the rest of the rugby world was to shatter the mystique of the All Blacks: the fear factor, the sense of awe that has long afflicted those who play and put their bodies on the line against them.

On the other hand, the end-of- tour picture of the All Blacks as cheats as well as thugs is carrying sanctimony way beyond the offside line with which they are so familiar. Yes, they conceded an awful lot of penalties, and yes, their preaching at British players for offences - killing the ball, going over the top and the like - they themselves routinely perpetrate is an obvious hypocrisy.

But the idea that they are grievous sinners for pushing the law to, and over, the limit is almost as bad since this is more or less what every team, international or otherwise, in rugby's upper echelon seeks to do. The All Blacks used to do it better, certainly when Shelford was their charismatic leader; not any more.

In fact the tour demonstrated that many things have changed about All Black rugby. Heavens above, they are earnestly moving the ball these days and it is an interesting role-reversal that Mains should consistently complain about English sides' failure to do likewise. The coach tended to exempt the Scots, but then the Blacks did have it a bit easier north of the border.

'If I talk about individual players, there is a tremendous depth of quality in England; unfortunately, there are only nine or 10 of them playing rugby in each game,' was his parting shot. 'The difference is that the rugby public of England are quite happy to see the ball kicked and see teams win on goals. They don't care whether tries are scored or not, so if English teams believe that's their best chance of winning, they're quite happy to do that.'

This, Mains assures us, is not post-Twickenham-trauma sour grapes. 'I'm not being critical of the way the English play now. If that's what the English public want and that's the way the coaches and players want to play it here, I don't have a hang-up.' Believe that or not, Mains certainly does have a hang- up about losing to England because, never mind the next World Cup, it left this tour a failure. One defeat in 13 matches was one defeat too many.

Comments by England's Will Carling and Brian Moore in newspaper articles are to be looked into by the Rugby Football Union. Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, said yesterday: 'I expect that players writing columns will be brought up at the next meeting.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- NEW ZEALAND'S TOUR RECORD ----------------------------------------------------------------- London (Twickenham, 23 Oct) W 39-12 Midlands (Leicester, 27 Oct) W 12-6 South-West (Redruth, 30 Oct) W 19-15 North (Liverpool, 2 Nov) W 27-21 England A (Gateshead, 7 Nov) W 26-12 South of Scotland (Galashiels, 10 Nov) W 84-5 Scotland A (Glasgow, 13 Nov) W 20-9 Scotland Development XV (Myreside, 16 Nov) W 31-12 SCOTLAND (Murrayfield, 20 Nov) W 51-15 England Emerging Players (Gloucester, 23 Nov) W 30-19 ENGLAND (Twickenham, 27 Nov) L 9-15 Combined Services (Devonport, 30 Nov) W 13-3 Barbarians (Cardiff, 4 Dec) W 25-12 TOUR RECORD: P13 W12 L1 F386 (42T, 31C, 36P, 2D) A156 (5T, 1C, 40P, 3D) Leading points-scorers: S Howarth 81 (3T, 15C, 12P), M Cooper 76 (11C, 18P), J Wilson 58 (6T, 5C, 6P). Try-scorers: M Ellis, J Wilson 6; Z Brooke 5; N Hewitt 4; S Bachop, S Howarth, E Rush 3; J Mitchell 2; L Barry, M Berry, F Bunce, E Clarke, C Dowd, I Jones, J Joseph, J Preston, J Timu, V Tuigamala 1. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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