England's defence coach, Mike Ford, can never have heard the extremely valuable advice offered by the corner-man of an early opponent of Mike Tyson, back when he made most people's blood run cold just by looking at them. "Whatever you do, said the old fight man, "do not hit him right off the bat. It will just piss him off."
The All Blacks, we have enough disturbing evidence to suggest, have been similarly irritated by Ford's view that, while so much of the rest of the rugby world has been entranced by the latest evidence of their evolving brilliance with an oval ball, really what we have been seeing is some glorified form of touch-and-run.
Furthermore, it is something that young England, with five players coming into their first Test at Twickenham, have more than a cat in hell's chance of enmeshing in what Ford describes, a little hauntingly, as a "good, old-fashioned Test rugby game".
The question, given that the All Blacks have beaten England with varying degrees of ease on the last eight occasions, is surely : how old-fashioned? Will the entire team come out wearing leather skull caps and handlebar moustaches?
There is another necessary enquiry – and it has nothing to with the undoubted legitimacy of any plans to produce what Ford has projected as possibly "one of the best defensive performances ever".
This one asks quite how fatuous it is to disparage an outbreak of rugby that, not withstanding last weekend's narrow defeat by Australia in Hong Kong, has left New Zealand again firmly parked at the top of the world rankings and with a try record to bring water to the eyes of even more redoubtable coaches than Mr Ford?
Pretty fatuous, you have to answer. By all means set your traps, target your victims and conspire to level the odds that on the face of it are quite outrageously pitted against you. There is, after all, no more noble undertaking in sport – occasionally it produces unexpected glory and in the meantime helps to define the greatness of superior opposition.
It is also true that if ever a game needed uplift after emerging from a morass of rules confusion – not to mention the stain of "Bloodgate" – it is the one at Twickenham this afternoon. Any kind of regression, morally or tactically, should be the last item on the menu.
Ford's comments have, All Black coach Graham Henry has made it clear, been smouldering in his psyche for some days now, a reality his opposite number, Martin Johnson, who led England to their last Test victory over New Zealand as captain, no doubt had in mind when he reached out for some rare diplomacy.
Johnson said: "There is probably an aura [about New Zealand] but when you get into analysis they are a rugby team. Of course, when you face the haka and see the black shirts there is a buzz. But you can't be inhibited by that. You've got to be respectful – but not too respectful."
No one could be offended by that, not Henry or his potentially sensational debutants Hosea Gear and Sonny Bill Williams or the relentlessly rewarding Danny Carter. It is just the routine line of an old rugby warrior who knows precisely what his team is up against this afternoon.
What it is, we should all know well enough by now, is one of the greatest traditions in any branch of world sport, this thrust of a small nation's desire to produce the best of itself on the field. This, no doubt, has represented itself down the years in various ways, some of them brutally cynical, but always there is a fierce and consistent desire to push themselves – and sometimes the game – forward into new areas, new possibilities.
To be fair to Mike Ford, there is a certain nerve, and even maybe a crabby nobility to his ambition to hold these latest All Blacks, and say, in effect, "You may have dazzled the world but my guys are not about to blink; they're going to scuffle and battle and see if you are as good as some say you are." No coach worth his hire would say anything less.
The problem, apart from the matter of pre-match psychology, comes when you imply your opponents have been making their names in a game you do not respect – a game that, somehow, has been made false.
This is surely less than admirable. It is not a declaration of war but an insult. Mike Tyson certainly wouldn't have been impressed, no more than the All Blacks. It means, you have to fear, that business could well get quite gruesome at Twickenham this afternoon.
Hiddink is the man to sort out the City egos
Sheikh Mansour has been somewhat reluctant to take advice from this corner – understandably enough, maybe, when the burden of it has been that there simply isn't enough oil in Arabia to guarantee success in football if you don't follow a few fundamental rules – but, who knows? He may well be a little more receptive right now.
Here, anyway, is the best offering should he bow to the clamour being generated by the head-banging persuasion which believes sacking Roberto Mancini will automatically help to keep the golden caravan rolling on.
Mancini, a notably civilised man who is beginning to hint that he knows he is involved not so much in a brave, opulent new world but a walking nightmare, may soon enough examine his problems and walk away before the axe falls on him as it did on his predecessor, Mark Hughes.
In either event, the richest man in football should respond in a way only possible to someone of his resources. He should make a deal with the Turkish football association and reward it extravagantly for releasing its coach, Guus Hiddink.
The Hiddink option was certainly hard to dismiss as City gave fresh evidence in Poznan that their malaise runs rather deeper than mere media tittle-tattle.
The most shocking aspect of defeat by a team occupying third from bottom in the Polish League was the demeanour of many of the players, and most notably Emmanuel Adebayor. The former Arsenal striker, it is true, scored an equaliser but in the second half, when the Poles came alive again, he was a disgrace, at one point refusing the basic chore of covering the ground.
Hiddink's record by now speaks for itself. Apart from superb World Cups with the Netherlands, South Korea and Australia, he won the European Cup for PSV Eindhoven and might well have done it again with Chelsea but for some of the most outrageous refereeing seen at any level of the game. However, the talent which makes him so ideal for City is in separating winners from losers, assessing players not only for their ability but their character.
He would go through the current City squad with the hardest instinct. He would tell Carlos Tevez that no matter how many goals he scored, he would never be more than part of a team.
He would tell Yaya Touré that, however much money is sloshing into his bank account, he should consider that beating the traffic after being withdrawn from a huge game is maybe not the most encouraging gesture. He would tell Adebayor – and maybe every team-mate in Poland but David Silva – that his performance was dismaying by any professional standard. He would make Manchester City a proper football club not a counting house. Who knows, sheikh, he might also begin to provide something like value for money.
Silence may not be so golden for Rooney
Having spent a week sunning himself in Dubai, Wayne Rooney is now heading for the Pacific North-west and the Nike Camp where, we are told, he will continue his recovery from injury away from the prying lenses of the paparazzi.
Sounds like a fair idea, at least at first glance. Oregon is certainly a place where a finely honed athlete can get in touch with his inner self. Long favoured by crack track stars, the smell of the pines and the beauty of the terrain are a perfect environment for an athlete bent on recharging himself.
However, it is a bit quiet, almost as tranquil, you have to say, as the World Cup training camp on the high veld which left the lad, apparently, in a near coma of boredom. It is also true, if memory serves me right, that scheduled flights from Portland to Las Vegas are cheap – as if that mattered – and take not much more than an hour.
No, you are right. It doesn't really bear thinking about.Reuse content