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PC's Weekly Opinion: It Takes Real Balls To Win

This opinion piece is the fifth in a new series of "PC's Weekly Opinion" - a pithy, heavily-spiced editorial from Peter Cresswell that can be delivered to your in-box once a week. If you like what you read then feel free to forward it to everyone you've ever met, and to subscribe at . And if you don’t like what you read, then learn to get over it.

The new All Blacks were chosen on Sunday.

Okay. The selection of blokes who get to play rugby for New Zealand is not going to excite many American readers (although it probably should) but the recent history of the All Blacks has some instructive lessons for us all. In sport we see a microcosm of life, and the All Blacks' decline from their snorting, snarling world-conquering best has shown in microcosm what happens when success and winning are derided.

Like Manchester United - and the Chicago Bulls, the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Yankees - the All Blacks used to epitomise one thing: Winning! They didn't win every game, or even every game they should have, but like all champion teams they had the ability to win the games that mattered. And what's more, they wanted to win - they were hungry for victories. Winning was their fuel, their goal, their raison d'être (if we can use such a poncy French phrase about rugby victories). Rugby is a physical game, and All Black rugby is - or at least was - grindingly physical; these glorious bastards wanted to win, and in a game like rugby that prizes intimidation, All Black victories were achieved by any means necessary.

But not any more.

The All Blacks were vanquished in the Rugby World Cup by a team who spat out some distinctly un-poncy French phrases - like niquer ta mère, va-te-faire enculer, and nom de Dieu de bordel de merde! - and inflicted defiant street-fighting tactics on the flaccid All Blacks who once might have used such tactics themselves. Instead, they whined pathetically that the French weren't 'being fair,' New Zealand captain Taine Randall whimpering afterwards that his team had been "out-passioned." As he was probably told by his French counterpart, the All Black's limp response showed they were just couille molle - flabby testicles!

In the biggest competition their sport has to offer, they lacked the desire to win. As Man. United manager Alex Ferguson said of his own team's loss on Monday, "We got what we deserved. Maybe some players … are taking success for granted. It has been a concern for some time, and until we address it we will continue getting results like this. It's not always quality that wins a game of football - [the other team] just had a greater hunger than us." It takes talent and effort and dedication and sheer unrelenting hunger to win year after year, season after season - and inning after inning. "We grind," said 1999 Yankees manager Joe Torre. "We play nine innings. That's the highest compliment I can give."

It has always been so, that victory only rarely goes to the strongest or fastest man; sooner or later the victory goes to the man who thinks he can. As rugby players get both stronger and faster, that hunger to win becomes more important, more crucial. Yet the New Zealand game has got softer - it's been overtaken by flabby testicles.

While Australian teams still harbour that absolute refusal to 'take the foot off the throat' once the scent of victory is in the air, here in the birthplace of Keith Murdoch, Colin Meads and Richard Loe the 'killer instinct has almost evaporated. Almost.

The new coach and this new All Back squad offer some hope, some signs of new life, and the geographic make-up of the squad is part of that. The selectors have gone south, choosing fifteen players from the champion Canterbury team and only one from former champions Auckland. I'm going to push the boat out and suggest that the reason for that shift isn't to be found in the respective skills of players in those regions, but in the attitudes of their players. The difference is in how much they value victory.

Auckland can't find itself a decent captain, let alone players who like winning; they're a team of followers with no one amongst them who wants to lead. Auckland and New Zealand have been struggling to find players who like to win, and have been desperate to find anyone - anyone at all - with the most important quality in a captain: the snorting, snarling hunger to lead his men to victory. Hell, the All Black selectors are so desperate that last year they chose a captain who snarled but who couldn't ever get near the ball; this year we have a captain with a similar (albeit, a slightly lesser) snarl, but with a French hair dresser's name, and an inability to throw the ball in straight. Neither are there for their talent with the ball, they're there because they're the only intelligent snarlers we have left.

Both these captains are Southern Men. The All Black squad is now full of them, and the reason is simple: political correctness has taken over the teachers colleges and the schools, and has taken over Auckland and much of the North, but it hasn't quite taken over the south. Yet.

We in Auckland are awash in rampant political correctness. Standing out from the crowd is unfashionable here. Thinking for yourself is unfashionable. Excellence is unfashionable. Winning is deeply unfashionable. The result is there to see on playing fields all around the country. And it matters!

Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Waterloo was said to have been won on the playing fields of Eton, and therein lies a truth. The world owes none of us a living, and whining about the 'unfairness' of that harsh truth puts food in nobody's mouth. What happens on our playing fields shows us what sort of people we are - whether we have what it takes, or whether we are just a bunch of whining, wimpy, flabby testicles.

It's worth reflecting that whatever field of endeavour in which we are engaged, one thing is absolutely true: Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

And not just in sport.

© 2001

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