Monday, November 17, 2003

Captain Kirk

It's genuinely astonishing to believe that it will be twenty years since New Zealand, the power of International Rugby Union Football since the 1905 tour of the British Isles when they were first christened "All-Blacks," will have last won the Rugby World Cup when the next one rolls around. And what's all the more astonishing is that the reason they've lost is because, hard though it may be to believe, they're chokers.

New Zealand choked against South Africa in 1995, they choked against France in 1999 and they choked last weekend against Australia. New Zealand went into each game not just as favourites, but as a team that were going to revolutionize the way rugby is played and thought of, and each time with a player that was the best in the world at that time - Lomu in 1995, Christian Cullen in 1999 and Carlos Spenser this year.

Is it a co-incidence that all these players were backs? New Zealand rugby was always built on the notion of ferocious and unforgiving forward play - Gareth Edwards wrote in his autobiography that being caught at the bottom of an All-Black ruck was like getting caught in a combine harvester - but those days appear to be over. The people aren't scared of the All-Black jersey and the silver fern any more. New Zealand can't back up the haka no more.

And if you don't believe me, ask David Kirk. David Kirk is the only captain of New Zealand to raise the William Webb Ellis trophy, and it's a honour he's only dying to share. But he doesn't think it that likely.