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This story was originally published byNorth & Southand is republished with permission.
OPINION: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named a largely predictable squad for the 2019 RWC, apart from dropping 108-test veteran Owen Franks after some lacklustre displays in the Rugby Championship, and not taking big blindside flanker Liam Squire up on his availability for selection after withdrawing from the Rugby Championship and just a handful of strong showings for Tasman and the Mitre 10 Cup.
Their spots are filled by Chiefs loosehead prop Atu Moli and flanker Luke Jacobson.
As expected, they have gone with four locks to cover Brodie Retallick’s injury recovery – he is expected to be fit by the quarterfinals, while midfielder Ryan Crotty also makes the trip after recovering from a broken thumb.
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The hardest done by is possibly second five-eighth Ngani Laumape, but I would suspect he may still get the call-up if any of the four chosen midfielders are injured.
It is a squad geared towards speed and utility.
It wasn’t always like this, you know. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when rugby rose to being of at least equal importance as my two other great passions, music and food.
There was a time I couldn’t have given a single, solitary s… about the Rugby World Cup, and would essentially have thought that anyone who subscribed to the “it’s not life and death – it’s much more important than that” – tenet was a brainwashed, Kool-Aid-swallowing, nationalistic buffoon. But my, oh my, that seems a long time and another world away now.
Since then, there have been moments when those passions have flared: the time when Ma’a Nonu turned up when I was meeting my musical hero (Johnny Marr of the Smiths), and I felt very conflicted; the time when I met a friend’s mum’s new husband at a wedding who was “very interested in rugby”, and I talked so intensely at him that he slunk off and avoided me for the rest of the night; the uncharacteristically understated way I shook Wayne Smith’s hand at a Wellington traffic light and thanked him for his role in the 2015 World Cup triumph; and the time just a few weeks ago when I met Australian-based, New Zealand-reared rugby oracle Spiro Zavos and (mostly) kept it together.
I can recall just a little of that inaugural tournament, here in New Zealand in 1987 (which we won), and not very much at all of the subsequent event in 1991 (which we did not).
I have distinct memories of the 1995 World Cup, when the All Blacks lost to the Nelson Mandela-inspired Springboks (seemingly just so Hollywood could make a terrible movie,Invictus, about it, with the tiny Matt Damon playing hulking Boks skipper Francois Pienaar.
The rugby scenes in it are so dreadful they make me wince, and there is no mention whatsoever of the All Blacks food-poisoning scandal).
I also remember watching the All Blacks lose the 1999 semifinal at Twickenham to the French, over a game of Monopoly in a living room in Finsbury Park, North London. Meh, pass the salty beer nuts.
By 2003, though, I was back in New Zealand and living in Wellington, where the oval-ball code seemed to be something virtually everyone took an interest in.
Future All Black greats, including Nonu, Piri Weepu, Rodney So’oialo and Jerry Collins (RIP), were all regular fixtures in and around Cuba St, and with the World Cup taking place in Australia (after New Zealand had blown co-hosting rights by failing to guarantee “clean”, ad-free stadiums).
I was all in. I vividly recollect watching the All Blacks, basically unbackable favourites, fall behind the Wallabies in the semi-final after an early Stirling Mortlock intercept try, and then sink further and further into the mire. “Four more years, boys,” crowed Wallabies halfback George Gregan.
“Four more years…” I was almost pleased when they lost the final, even if it was to England.
Then there was France 2007, where the All Blacks were even bigger favourites but wound up crashing out even sooner than in 2003, in a quarterfinal against the hosts, wearing those dismal grey jerseys – and in Cardiff, of all bloody places.
The French had lost their opening match against Argentina; Wayne Barnes, the English referee for the quarterfinal, was a boy on a man’s errand, getting redder and redder faced, and failing to call a blatant forward pass that ended up being the winning of the match.
Not to mention the All Blacks’ utter refusal/inability to take a drop goal that could have snatched victory.
There were recriminations, there were tears, there was much gnashing of teeth – and not just from me. There was an inquiry, and a largely unreadable (unread?) report.
What there still wasn’t, however, was a little gold cup in the New Zealand Rugby Union’s cabinet that held all the other trophies on offer: the Bledisloe Cup, the Freedom Cup and the Dave Gallaher Trophy; numerous Tri Nations and Rugby Championship titles – none could hold a candle to the Webb Ellis Cup, that symbol of global rugby supremacy that New Zealand had not won for 20 years.
Its absence had become a national, and personal, obsession.
A passionate bid from New Zealand Rugby Union chair Jock Hobbs, supported by then PM Helen Clark and All Blacks legends Tana Umaga and Colin Meads, was enough to secure cup hosting rights in 2011 – maybe we could win another one at home?
After all, we did have the older, wiser heads of two of the greatest ever to play the game in Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, both battle-scarred veteran survivors of that harrowing 2007 quarterfinal loss.
What we, the rugby-loving publi
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