Does dissecting games make you a bad fan?

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By , Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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    So the mighty All Blacks have fallen and the world has continued to spin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like it when the All Blacks lose.

    I must admit, however, that when it comes to losing I prefer it when we’ve played out of our skins, and that wasn’t the case on Saturday night. As cliche as it sounds, a loss provides opportunity for learning, and based on that performance there’s certainly a bit to work on. However, the expectation that some have of every game being a victory just isn’t realistic.

    I feel flat tonight – it’s not the result I expected or wanted. I knew it would be a tough match; I did not subscribe to the ‘we’ll annihilate them’ brigade at all. Australia have been improving with every game, and if I’m being brutally honest, I can’t really say that about the All Blacks.

    There’s been more handling errors in the RC than I care to remember. However, even with thinking that I admit I did expect us to win. Even during the last moments of the game I expected a last-minute try to be scored, as has been the case on a fair few occasions. But it wasn’t to be. We lost, Australia won, and good on them.

    The pressure the All Blacks are under is no secret. Colin Meads once described an All Blacks defeat as “a national tragedy”, which was often followed by verbal abuse and, worse, scorn. Brian Williams likened the changing room to “a morgue” after a loss, saying that not only were there feelings of having let yourself and your family down but also feeling of letting “your country down”. Meads believed that the fear of letting your country down was even stronger than the fear of losing itself.

    According to Conrad Smith, “The public expectation is tough to deal with”, and if you’re a member of one of the many New Zealand rugby social media groups, this will hardly be news. Smith conceded that the level of support is awesome “when things go well” and left it at that. There was no need to elaborate.

    (Image: AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    After the move to France in 2015 to play for Pau, Conrad Smith felt revitalised. “My wife, after wanting me to retire the whole time I was in New Zealand, doesn’t want me to stop now,” he said. The important thing for Smith is that he’s “home a lot more than [he] was in New Zealand”, which is how he now wants to live his life. He stressed the importance of finding a way “to take your mind off the game and to distance yourself from the pressure and scrutiny”, which he did through golf, diving, gardening and cooking.

    I don’t think we should underestimate the toll travelling and playing rugby at the highest level has on a player. Smith played 94 tests over 12 seasons for the All Blacks. While I don’t know how much travelling that would have entailed, it’s obviously a lot. The only example I’ve been able to find is that of Wayne Smith who spent “170 to 200 days each year away from home, travelling locally and globally” in his role as assistant cCoach. So being involved with the All Blacks requires a lot of time away from home.

    Beauden Barrett has also spoken of the very high expectations of the New Zealand public, which he feels is not a particularly bad thing per se. He believes “the end of the world” reaction to a loss is because the public are used to the All Blacks winning and it has therefore “become the norm”. And thanks to social media, a new norm has reared it’s ugly head. Bear with me…

    I love post-match analysis. I like reading what other people made of the game and I like contributing. But what I don’t like is the way social media has provided a platform for ignorance – and arrogance, but that’s another blog!. I do not like the use of blanket statements – yes, I’m talking about generalisations here – rendering an entire nation down to one.

    (Image: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

    First of all, generalisations make no sense. How can 4.5 million New Zealanders all be this or all be that? Secondly, again connected to the absence of sensibility, they’re absolutely impossible to substantiate. Tonight I have defended myself three times because by making a generalisation about Kiwis you’re actually insulting me, and my goodness I will defend myself!

    Here’s an example of one: apparently Kiwis are “cry babies” for congratulating Australia and analyzing our team on our supporter groups. I just love the audacity of that one. Apparently we’re disgusting for questioning selections and when the bench was used. So it’s okay to comment on games we win, but not games we lose? It’s okay to discuss players strengths but not their weaknesses?

    I find that a bizarre concept. I’m not talking about character assassinations here – which I think are completely unacceptable – I’m talking about analysis and critiquing the game. As a passionate rugby fan I think it’s my right to do so as long – as I do it respectfully of course.

    The bottom line is the better team won at the weekend. End of story. Sure, we had guys missing, but that shouldn’t matter. The team needs to have a plan B and plan C. Do we remember the 2011 Rugby World Cup? Players aren’t indispensable – or, rather, players shouldn’t be indispensable. The second or third guy should be able to slot in with no hiccups. Of course pivotal players have an impact, but it’s not wise to be too dependent on certain players.

    I get that we all have our favourites – mine is Beauden Barrett, my 80-year old aunty likes Kieran Reid and my sister likes Ben Smith – but we’re fully capable of dissecting their game without getting defensive, insulting or profane.

    (Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    There’s been a lot said about selections and use of the bench. I have questions myself. Why was Mo’unga not on the bench? Why wasn’t Alb used? Why did TJ and Ardie come on so late? But my questions don’t diminish the trust I have in the selection panel and coaches to make the decisions.

    Should a fan blindly follow and not ask questions? I think not. I have a brain and I fully intend to use it. Questioning does not make me any less of an All Blacks supporter – in fact I think the opposite; I think my curiosity makes me more of a fan. I also think joining in with others to discuss the game makes me what I like to call a ‘thinking fan’. The All Blacks are not a cult; we’re allowed to think for ourselves and have opinions.

    The All Blacks lost, and we all survived. It was not the best day for New Zealand rugby, but it was certainly not the worst, and chances are it won’t be our only loss in the foreseeable future. But I have a sneaking suspicion it will make the guys hungrier on the end of year tour up north. And to me, that’s a good thing.

    So it was not a good day for us, but it was a good day for Australian rugby, and after everything that’s been happening in Australia recently, they needed something to celebrate. What’s good for the Wallabies is good for southern hemisphere rugby, and what’s good for southern hemisphere rugby is ultimately good for us.

    Kia kaha and tūtira mai ngā iwi. All Blacks forever.