The All Blacks will win (of course) – but just in case, here are our excuses
We'd normally beat the Aussies, but this time it really matters. No wonder we're nervous
Saturday 15 October 2011
We've got our excuses ready – and the first one is a doozy.
Should Australia knock the All Blacks out of the World Cup in tomorrow's semi-final, then here's how New Zealand's litany of whitewash and vindication will run (from most credible to most pathetic):
1. Daniel Carter was injured
2. Richie McCaw has a sore foot
3. It's just not fair!
OK, so they're tenuous lines at best. But if it all goes tits up tomorrow then we'll have plenty of time to fine-tune our position – four more years, in fact, as George Gregan might note. So you can expect a more polished excuse to take its place alongside the food poisoning of 1995, the Wayne Barnes debacle of 2007 and whatever form of shiv-wielding Gallic larceny France pulled on us back in 1999.
And rest assured, you can expect Carter's name – and, more importantly, his absence – to be covered in detail.
Yet in many ways, the injury to the world's best No 10 has oddly lifted an oppressive weight from the psyche of the Kiwi rugby public. We have a habit of arriving at World Cups with the most talented squad in the competition and departing without the silverware. The exit of Carter – a ludicrous amount of talent crammed into an Adonis-like physique – is as harsh an injury blow as a team could ever take. But when he went, Carter surely took any complacency with him. If his exit hasn't gone so far as to remove the crushing weight of expectation, it's at least put that expectation into focus, made each player more aware of what they must do to carry their load and more.
So, Carter? Better off without him? Not quite.
An NZRU insider was overheard just days before the No 10's injury professing the union's happiness with the work of the coaches. His one reservation: Graham Henry and co had never really sorted out adequate cover for Carter.
With Carter gone, and his deputy Colin Slade invalided with a spookily similar groin injury, the All Blacks have turned to Aaron Cruden and Stephen Donald, two men who have been tried in the Test No 10 jersey and are widely regarded as having failed. On the happier side of the ledger, the halfback Piri Weepu grabbed the All Black team by the scruff of the neck against the physical challenge of Argentina in last weekend's quarter-final, imposing himself not just upon the result (which was never really in doubt), but more so upon his team-mates. Weepu – an occasional goalkicker and no friend of the team dietician – could never have seized the helm had Carter still been fit. So, in the absence of one great All Black, a very good one steps forward. It was ever thus.
Yes, the excuses are in place, but the anxiety remains.
The thing that makes us even more nervous than the absence of Carter is the presence of "Bill". When the Webb Ellis Cup is at stake, the straight line that New Zealand rugby tends to walk suddenly becomes a circus high-wire with no net. If tomorrow's match were just another of the dozen or so Tests we seem to play against Australia in any given calendar year, then New Zealand rugby fans would be content with the positive omens – we've won 11 of our last 13 matches against them; Quade Cooper's form is comically bad, the loose forwards' guild having figured him out; we haven't lost to them at Eden Park since 1986. But it's not just another game.
The combination of a World Cup on home soil, all those four-year cycles of failure and a Wallaby team rich in Kiwi-raised talent hits the sweet spot of All Black anxiety.
It might surprise fans of lesser teams (ie you lot), but there's actually very little pleasure to be had from supporting the All Blacks.
Yes, they win more games than everyone else, and do so in a style most rivals can only dream of playing. But for more than a century the whole enterprise has been driven by fear of failure – a point only exacerbated by the invention of these accursed World Cups. That's why us Kiwis make a terrible sports crowd: you can't sing when your teeth are grinding.
So, will we win?
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