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In praise of All Blacks and other musings

The All Blacks' haka is one of the most famous in the world. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Roar Guru
16th August, 2015
95
2462 Reads

There is a significance to 1986 marking the last time the Wallabies won at Eden Park, Auckland.

Back when I was a young lad, from the third Test of 1978 to the third Test of 1986, the Wallabies matched the All Blacks win for win (eight apiece).

It was one of those rarest periods when we could say the Wallabies were the equal of the All Blacks.

Significantly, the Wallabies’ last two wins at Eden Park (1978 and ’86) book-ended this golden era. I had grudging respect for the black jersey, but there wasn’t much love.

The All Blacks played a traditional, bustling, quick ensemble style of rugby, but we Aussies had all the flair and pizzazz. We played the ‘real’ rugby. Or so may of us Aussie fans thought.

Today, my respect for the All Blacks knows no bounds. I might even be excused for loving everything the All Blacks stand for, both in rugby and in society.

I sometimes cop derision on The Roar for adhering to ‘old fashioned’ values like history and tradition. Some Roarers say they have no time for history and tradition.

I don’t mind progress as long as it adds value. For example, I reckon the Rugby Championship is a wonderful addition to the international calendar. However, I abhor changes motivated purely by marketing and money, and there are too many of these.

I’ll give you two words why history and tradition matter: All Blacks.

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When the latest All Blacks debutante Nehe Milner-Skudder pulled on the black jersey for the first time, its significant would have seeped through every pore in his body, penetrating through to his soul.

If he was a dickhead, he wouldn’t have lasted very long. Either he change or someone else of better character and equal ability would quickly replace him.

Of course, that’s not to say the All Blacks haven’t had their less savoury characters in their history. Often an All Blacks maxim was: ‘Get your retaliation in first’.

Many a talented opposition player who was perceived as a threat quickly found themselves with a bloody nose, or stud-raked back. Occasionally worse. But generally the All Blacks have an unbroken history of outstanding rugby players and generally outstanding human beings.

When you pull on that black jersey, you don’t have the luxury of taking it easy, of choosing when you want to perform or just cruise.

The bar of performance was set very high, right from the get-go in 1903 against the Wallabies, and set even higher on the 1905-06 tour of Britain, Ireland and France.

Since then almost every aspiring All Black has felt the weight of responsibility, of the history and tradition of the jersey, to live up to the high standard of their forebears.

Stop for a moment and contemplate this.

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The only changes to rugby league when it split from rugby union in 1895 and up to 1905, was to eliminate lineouts in 1897, which were replaced with a punt kick and to reduce all kicks at goal to two points.

When the league folk saw the All Blacks play in Britain in 1905-06, it was a revelation. A literal game-changer.

In 1906, the league reduced players from 15 to 13 (flankers removed) and introduced the ‘play the ball’ rule. These two significant changes in rugby league were based on the way the All Blacks played their rugby union.

Think about this. How many sports can say they completely changed the way another sport was played? I cannot bring one other example immediately to my mind. What happened in 1905-06 was truly extraordinary.

Many Kiwis would like to think they exhibit the qualities of the All Blacks. But the All Blacks are unique to New Zealand society, not necessarily representative of all their society.

Other national teams such as the Black Caps (cricket), Kiwis (rugby league), All Whites (football), Black Sticks (hockey), Tall Blacks (basketball) and Silver Ferns (netball) have enjoyed spectacular moments of success here and there.

But none of them have enjoyed the continual phenomenal success of the All Blacks.

If you get your history and tradition right at the beginning, it’s significance resonates through the ages.

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Australians can sense and identify with the proud history of our baggy greens Test cricket team. As a nation, we proudly hold up the diggers who fought at Gallipoli and in France during World War I as embodying the qualities of courage and character we like to think all Australians possess.

But as with the All Blacks to New Zealand, the legend of the digger is not indicative of all Australians, but only a section of it. But it is a history and tradition we ought to aspire towards, all the same.

The current All Blacks are probably the greatest rugby team in history.

In the past four years, since winning the World Cup in 2011, they have played 47 Tests, for 42 wins, two draws and only three losses. Their win ratio percentage is 90.43 per cent.

The overall win ratio of the All Blacks, from 1903 to the present, is 78.24 per cent.

Richie McCaw is arguably the greatest rugby player in history, with a winning ratio of 89.36. Dan Carter is arguably the greatest flyhalf in history, with a winning ratio of 89.04. Both men are not only great players, but outstanding individuals of character and integrity.

Irrespective of which country you come from, you should enjoy watching this team while you can. Very shortly, half this team will be gone, retired.

Finally, I noticed something else last night that had slipped my notice previously. Every All Black wore black boots. Once upon a time every player in every rugby team wore black boots.

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By contrast, the Wallabies players featured lime green, lime yellow, orange, red, white as well as some of the obligatory black boots.

The Wallabies aren’t obligated to play in black only boots, but perhaps they might consider all playing in the same colour.

It may be a minor thing, but just another example of how seriously the All Blacks respect their history and tradition.