Rugby, Politics and the News
Last Monday morning – Black Monday – the All Blacks were beaten 43- 31 by France.
Last Monday afternoon in the Beehive an “urgent” press conference was called by the PM. The PM announced that the government believed it was possible to lower both the corporate and the top personal tax rate at a cost of $800 million over the term of the next government.
Grumpy journalists tried valiantly to convince themselves that the PM was making policy on the foot. I was more inclined to think that they were trying to do some double act which a sleep deprived, bored and distracted Press Gallery just didn’t get. They were campaigning. We were asleep.
And did anybody notice. No.
Why. Because there was, and has been, only one thing on everybody’s minds since that day. The unmentionable.
For Scoop the highlight was when Scoop asked the Treasurer whether he had received any advice on the impact on productivity and economic growth of the morning’s defeat?
He shrugged and said no.
The PM was then asked if she had seen the match and began what appeared to be a prepared answer… but when she started to talk about French “Flavour”, Scoop was so outraged that he couldn’t help interrupting (and in the process probably destroying) the soundbite.
Scoop… “By flavour do you mean the obscenities inflicted on the All Blacks?” Everybody hopefully put it down to sleep deprivation. Scoop can’t remember what her reply was. But it was brief.
The PM later confided to Scoop that she hadn’t in fact seen the first half – and said she had heard that that had been more exciting. Scoop told the PM about Jonah’s try and encouraged her to watch the first half in the replay. She said she had a campaign to get on with.
Fortunately the Treasurer had seen the first half.
But, said Scoop, what about the ref. A complete idiot. Probably put in there deliberately by the IRB to trip the All Blacks up. The All Blacks had gone onto the field under instructions not to foul or play off-side because Fleming (who they met in Sydney) was whistle happy – while the French had gone on under instructions to commit as many fouls as possible. Of course there was no Plan B. The All Blacks thought they had been set up.
The Treasurer asked Scoop if his name was Ed and then Ian [Wishart] and accused Scoop of being a conspiracy theorist. Scoop asked him why he thought it was fair for everybody to be so hard on the All Blacks.
He replied, “they have a job to do and if they don’t do it they have to take the flak”.
Over the past week rugby news has out-rated mainstream news, the campaign, everything by a factor of around three to one.
On Black Monday rugby rated 5 to 1 to everything else on Scoop.
Scoop received the images it has been publishing by email from a Kiwi patriot in Copenhagen – who wanted to work off some of the frustration.
There is a tradition to All Black Loss mourning and joking is part of the lore. Joyful humiliation.
For his part Scoop has now well and truly forgiven the All Blacks. In fact he believes they don’t need forgiving.
This is because Scoop thinks they never lost. And that is the secret at the heart of the Legend of the All Blacks.
They never lose. They are only ever set up.
World Cup 1995 – South Africa– poisoned.
World Cup 1999 – assaulted by the old order of rugby accompanied by a lack of tactical preparation – they should have been expecting it and as Angus Morrison from the Evening Post said – punched them back. (Memo to Jonah: do you Want to play regularly with this level of thuggery?)
There is some perversity in the level of fanship that believes that a team never loses - but it is nevertheless not as unreasonable as it seems.
The All Blacks won all but two matches this year. Both were refereed by Jim Fleming. In both cases the teams that beat them declared it to be a very, very, very big deal. Before the match the French coach said he was “at the foot of the mountain”.
It was a shame – albeit typically French - that he chose to cheat (what else is deliberate fouling) and take a helicopter.
Most fans are perhaps not as extreme as Scoop in their views on this game. But I suspect many are. Many more will take years to come to terms with it.
And what does this mean for politics?
Political parties ought to be wary of the impact, even now, of the rugby.
Why? Because the public like the All Blacks a lot more than they do politicians and they need to normalise their relations with the All Blacks before they can get back to thinking about politics.
While I agree with all those who say it is only a game – this is not the point – for New Zealand it is not only a game.
A community of people cannot idealise a team as much as the All Blacks do – in the way they do - and then deal with the Napoleonic treachery of the Battle of Twickenham in a predictable fashion.
And finally a message to the team.