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Cooper, Woodward and apathy: threats to All Black dominance

Australia's Quade Cooper kicks midfield in front of Daniel Carter during the Investec Tri Nations rugby match between Australia Wallabies and New Zealand All Blacks for the Bledisloe Cup at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday August 6 2011. (AAP Images/NZPA, Stephen Barker).
Roar Guru
11th December, 2013
228
4706 Reads

For many, a victory is a fantastic achievement. For others, consistency of performance becomes the goal, while for the very few, dominance is the driving force.

If quotes in the All Blacks’ dressing room are anything to go by, then dominance is their driving motivation and by in large, this is what they have achieved over a sustained period.

But has this dominance become an obsession for New Zealand and can that fanatical compulsion last?

There are a couple of cracks appearing in New Zealand’s system that suggests they are heading for a fall, the biggest of which may just be apathy.

I was at the pub the other day and happened to strike up a conversation with a diehard All Blacks fan about their record-setting season and the state of international rugby.

While there were the usual platitudes and glorification, it didn’t take long to get down to this guy’s real opinion and it took me slightly by surprise.

While he was proud to be a fan of a team that the media is now calling ‘The Unbeatables’, he admitted that he was actually supporting Ireland in the dying moments of that history-making match.

Interesting but not surprising, given Ireland’s tenacity and woes over the years. However, when pushed further, he revealed an even more interesting quirk.

During The Rugby Championship, he supported Australia and even went as far as to say he wished they had taken the Bledisloe Cup back, something that could get him lynched in rugby mad New Zealand.

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This fan had been struck with a case of apathy and the love of his team had been trumped by the innate human response to support the underdog.

The problem, he claimed, was that for All Blacks fans, The Rugby Championship was boring. There was no point watching games when they knew the All Blacks were inevitably going to win.

In his opinion, the All Blacks were technically miles ahead of everyone else and the only obstacle for them was the motivational side of the game. If they got that right then no one could beat them.

A somewhat pretentious point of view, but also accurate given what happened this year.

When bemoaning Australia’s downfalls against New Zealand, he pointed directly to Quade Cooper, but laid the blame for Cooper’s inconsistency on the New Zealand rugby public.

Cooper, he said, had been so mentally pillaged by the fans of New Zealand that he was beaten before he even took the field. An affliction that ended up affecting most of the team.

In Quade’s case, it’s hard to argue with the mental pillaging. The New Zealand rugby public has been on a Quade Cooper tear since 2011.

They’ve booed him, attacked him in the media and publicly vilified him…But why?

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Was it for having a go at Richie McCaw? But, lots of people have had a go at King Richie so it couldn’t just be that…

Was it for having a go at Robbie Deans? Well, most people were of the opinion that Robbie was making his own bed across the ditch so it couldn’t of been just for that…

The real reason has more to do with insecurity.

Cooper was simply so good in the 2011 Super Rugby competition that the New Zealander rugby public feared he would push the balance of power back over to Australia and that was frightening.

It reminded them of a time when they were fallible.

It wasn’t an orchestrated thing, but Kiwi fans seized on the opportunity to test Cooper’s mental game and in the cruel world of sports, aided by various other dramas, Cooper faltered.

The fans, like the NZRFU, recognised the need to maintain dominance over Australia and keep the foot on Cooper’s throat and did so.

As his consistency yo-yoed through 2012, fans compared him to Dan Carter and asked if in an alternate reality, he would make it into the All Blacks.

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For me, the simple answer to that question is yes! In that alternate universe, there would be a moustachioed version of Quade in the All Blacks right now contesting the position with a moustachioed Aaron Cruden and moustachioed Beauden Barrett.

Anyone that displayed the skills that Cooper did in the Reds’ Super Rugby victory would have made the All Blacks.

And in that alternate reality, he would have built confidence in a superior winning culture and that would have translated into consistent world-beating performances.

He still wouldn’t have been able to tackle but hey, Israel Dagg can’t tackle either and look where he is.

If you are a fan of conspiracies you could say that the whole Quade Cooper smear campaign was propagated, perhaps not manipulated but certainly propagated by the NZRFU.

On the surface, administrators told the New Zealand public to leave Quade alone and stop the booing, but it was all done with double speak. They wanted to take the moral high ground, but also keep Cooper mentally weak.

Take, for example, this quote from Steve Hansen about the New Zealand public’s booing of Cooper.

“He’s brought it on himself but probably it would be good if we all got over it,” he said.

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There are two ideas in that sentence but which sentiment is stronger? The one that says Quade is to blame for all his woes or the one that tells people to get over it? If you then go to a game as a fan, do you boo Quade or do you cheer him?

But really, this isn’t about Quade, he was just a threat, it’s about the dominance that New Zealand has gone all out to protect.

It’s that dominance that is now coming under threat from inside New Zealand by a young man named Jason Woodward.

“Who?” you may ask.

Well, Jason Woodward is a young New Zealander from Wellington plying his trade with the Melbourne Rebels.

He was a part of the Junior All Blacks World Cup winning squad in 2010, had a break-through ITM cup in 2012 and has just recently announced that he would like to play for Australia rather than New Zealand.

So what does he have to do with Trans-Tasman rugby dominance?

Well, Australia is New Zealand’s closest rugby rival, they play them the most and dominance over them ensures good returns for the NZRFU, so naturally it has done all it can to maintain that power and capitalise on it financially.

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New Zealand are scared of losing that dominance and that is where Woodward becomes important.

New Zealand children grow up worshipping the All Blacks and their dominance. That draw has been a major factor in retaining players and nurturing a quality team.

Players have been leaving New Zealand shores since rugby went professional but that has traditionally been for the big pay-outs in the northern hemisphere and usually towards the end of a career.

So, when a promising 22-year-old rugby player just ups and chooses Australia over New Zealand, it shows that the pull of the All Black jersey is no longer what it was.

New Zealand loses thousands of workers in all industries to Australia every year, but when it comes to rugby, being the best team in the world has prevented that – if that appeal no longer applies then New Zealand is in danger of slipping.

But perhaps that’s a good thing. The All Blacks are a rugby machine. They isolate threats and then dominate without impunity both on the field and off. Does that make for good rugby? It certainly makes for good profits.

New Zealand will get knocked over soon enough, most probably by Australia but if they continue to generate apathy from their fans and players then they might have much deeper problems to deal with.