A curmudgeon's Rugby World Cup diary: Week four

3:14 pm on 6 August 2019

It's almost as if battle lines are being drawn.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen following the 16-16 draw with South Africa in Wellington on 27 July 2019

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen following the 16-16 draw with South Africa in Wellington Photo: Photosport

On one side you have the sigh-ers. The ones - and can't you just imagine All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and their friends in the media here - giving an exasperated exhalation of breath as someone mentions Kieran Read again.

Look, it's hard to even write about the All Blacks captain. You watch games and hear Read interviewed and you form opinions about him as a player and person, but you hardly dare utter them.

This is the All Blacks captain, after all, and we've been conditioned to believe that even veiled criticism of the man who holds that position is unpatriotic in the extreme.

On the sighing side of the argument, talk about Read's status as a starting All Black is absurd. The man's an all-time great, a giant among men and the first name on the team sheet.

But is that because he's the skipper or the best player at New Zealand's disposal?

The people who see Read as something other than sainted won't stop here. The questions about him playing blindside flanker, instead of his preferred No.8, are only going to come thicker and faster.

The problem for Hansen and Foster is that shifting Read would be an admission of fallibility. It would confirm Read isn't the player of old and that they've indulged him for appearance sake.

The minute you undermine a man in public, let alone one as important as the All Blacks captain, is the minute you make he and the team look vulnerable.

It's just that retaining Read at 8 - and making Ardie Savea sit on the bench - doesn't do them any favours either.

Which brings us to SBW

It's odd to see Sonny Bill Williams bristling on social media.

Across a long, sometimes controversial, career, Williams has tended to present superbly. Call him what you like, attack his faith and he'll respond with messages of love and tolerance. Splashing your children across the internet isn't for everyone, but Williams is happy to do it and you can't say it doesn't show him in a positive light.

But he took umbrage this week at the suggestion, from somewhere, that he was "under pressure'' to make New Zealand's Rugby World Cup squad. His subsequent rant was all a bit juvenile, but you take the point about what real pressure is.

The interesting part was that his overreaction came at the same time he was being sent to play for Counties Manukau at Katikati.

We've all assumed Williams' spot in the squad for Japan was assured, but now that's no so certain. Stories get planted in the media all the time so, if someone says Williams is under the pump, then he might well be. His response certainly suggested so.

A sad loss

Karl Tu'inukuafe has a lot to offer All Blacks rugby. The burly Blues' prop is a fine scrummager and good all round player and you hope to see him ascend to test level again.

That Hansen has dispensed with Tu'inukuafe's services is a shame. It suggests the player has given into himself in 2019, by failing to get into the right shape for international football.

Karl Tu'inukuafe talks to the media.

Karl Tu'inukuafe has been relegated to provincial duty during the Bledisloe Cup Tests by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2018

Hansen's seen it all over the years. He knows every vice and has heard every excuse and that's taught him to be patient with players. Tu'inukuafe has been given every chance to go to the world cup and hasn't taken it.

That's a shame; he would've been a real asset.

Even more disappointing

The 1991 Rugby World Cup offered so much hope.

An era of All Blacks dominance might have come to an end, but Samoa's performance suggested exciting times lay ahead for the international game.

Fiji had been quarterfinalists at the previous tournament and now Samoa had matched that. Tonga weren't quite so well organised, but you assumed they could reach similar levels in time.

Counting the ways in which Pacific rugby has been let down by World Rugby since would take all day. But the neglect and condescension have been criminal and you fear Fiji, Samoa and Tonga could take some terrible beatings in Japan.

The sides they're turning out in the Pacific Nations Cup are pretty ordinary and so are their results.

Tonga's unexpected rise has made international rugby league relevant again and you yearn for something similar to happen in rugby.

Vale Brian Lochore

Brian Lochore struck you as the sort of decent, kind, wise man that New Zealand used to specialise in.

Someone who did things because they were right and because they would help others, rather than for personal gain. A man who lived a full and satisfying life and never forgot to count their blessings.

This country is much better for his many and varied contributions.

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