The Bledisloe Cup again looks like it will retained by New Zealand after a commanding 38-13 win by the All Blacks against Australia in Game 1 in Sydney.
The Wallabies now head to Eden Park this weekend, where they have not won since 1986, looking to level the series. The Wallabies struggled with their fundamental skills against an aggressive All Blacks team and could not contain their second half onslaught.
The loss though again highlighted not only the fundamental skill differences between both teams, but also the deep connection both teams share with their respective national cultures. The All Blacks epitomise the importance of bridging the gap between the Maori and Pakeha (European) cultures which exist within New Zealand, while the Wallabies continue to struggle to solidify a true identity and connection with Australia’s first people.
The New Zealand national anthem encapsulates the recognition of both the Maori and Pakeha culture with the Maori verse first sung in 1999 at the Rugby World Cup in a game against England. Incorporating the Maori language showcases a lever of integration rather than segregation within the New Zealand culture.
This integration and cultural connectedness separates the All Blacks from their rivals and contributes to their sheer dominance within world rugby.
Critics will point to the simple fact that New Zealand has the largest talent pool to choose from, but a winning culture is created not just through talent alone. Success is generated through the individual collective understanding of the deep – rooted cultural story of the nation they are representing.
This is showcased no more clearly than in the Haka, which gives the All Blacks a psychological edge over its rivals.
John Eales, who many consider one of Australia’s greatest rugby captains, was involved in one of the most infamous events in Bledisloe Cup history, when his Australian lead team turned their back to the Haka in Wellington in 1996.
The All Blacks went on to record their biggest win over the Wallabies at that time 43-6 and Eales never forgot this moment. That lead him to go on a journey to discover the cultural significance of the Haka and what it means to the people of New Zealand.
The Haka, as Eales discovered, when performed properly provides a connection to the men you stand with and your country. The Haka has many unique connotations including a welcome, challenge, celebration or grieving. The most recognisable Haka is named Ka mata Haka, and is the story of survival which is quite apt when facing the uncertainty of a sporting contest.
The Wallabies represent a microcosm of a nation which is still searching and having to grapple with its history. The welcome to country before major sporting events is a step in the right direction, but the representation of only one indigenous player in the Wallabies team – that being Kurtley Beale – showcases a chasm which still exists.
The Wallabies may win at Eden Park and, in doing so, level the Bledisloe Cup series but this only covers over the deeper issues within the Wallabies makeup and the Australian national fabric which need to be acknowledged and progressed.