27 Oct 2019

Opinion: Pampered All Blacks overdue for a reality check

12:58 pm on 27 October 2019

Opinion: Now's not the time to feel sorry for anyone. Amid all the hogwash being talked in the aftermath of New Zealand's 19-7 Rugby World Cup semifinal defeat to England, is how we ought to spare a thought for some of them.

Members of England (white) and New Zealand (black) praise each other for putting up a good fight after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan semifinal match at International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture on October 26, 2019.

Beauden Barrett, left, and captain Kieran Read can't disguise their disappointment after the All Blacks' semifinal loss to England. Photo: AFP

Men such as the departing trio of head coach Steve Hansen, captain Kieran Read and senior outside back Ben Smith. Midfield back Sonny Bill Williams has likely played his last big match in an All Blacks' jersey, while assistant coach Ian Foster has probably seen his hopes of succeeding Hansen go down "the dunny,'' as his outgoing boss once said.

We're told they're all hurting and that this is a cruel, even heartbreaking way for their time with the team to end.

What nonsense. These men, and many, many others in the side, have enjoyed a charmed and pampered ride.

They've beaten teams all over the world, regularly crushing dreams without so much as a quiet request for New Zealanders to consider the feelings of the vanquished foes.

No, they've had a great run, enjoying all the many privileges that come with being All Blacks and now, for one of the few times in their careers, they've faced significant defeat themselves.

Spare a thought for them? You must be joking.

Those that are going, are off to enjoy cushier, better-paying gigs with club teams and even some of those who'll remain, such as Sam Whitelock, Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick, have lucrative Japanese sabbaticals included in their contracts with New Zealand Rugby.

There's nothing to mourn here and, besides, no sooner will people have tip-toed around these poor, wounded soldiers, than the players' social media accounts will be full of photos from exotic holiday destinations. Yep, she's a real hard life.

Beauden Barrett of New Zealand is disappointed with losing the 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan semifinal match against England at International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture on October 26, 2019. England won the match by 19-7 to advance to final.

The All Blacks leave the field in Yokohama after their semifinal loss. Despite the upset, they lead privileged lives, Hamish Bidwell writes. Photo: AFP

Victors out-thought, outplayed the All Blacks

Let's not lose sight of what happened here. England thoroughly out-thought and outplayed New Zealand and were more worthy winners than the 19-7 scoreline showed.

Everything they did on the night was better and they deserve our heartiest congratulations. They made the All Blacks look mediocre and we ought to thank them for that.

Sometimes, it's good to let the air out of things. Things can get a bit bloated around the All Blacks. Even people who are regularly around the side, such as media, get a rather inflated idea of their importance.

Hansen, for instance, enjoys a messianic status and having him look fallible once in a while isn't such a bad thing.

Reece case exposes New Zealand Rugby's disconnect with reality

We had got to a point where it was as if this group could do no wrong. That they had been so successful, and knew so much better than us, that if they decided to pick someone such as wing Sevu Reece, we weren't entitled to express disapproval.

Every outfit should be subject to checks and balances and that includes the All Blacks and NZR.

Reece was discharged without conviction last October after assaulting his partner outside a Hamilton night spot. People might roll their eyes at this being brought up again, but Reece was on his way to Irish club Connacht. They immediately tore up his contract but not good old NZR.

Reece got a gig with the Crusaders, played superbly in Super Rugby and is now a first-choice All Black.

This isn't about a vendetta with Reece or endlessly looking to shame him for past deeds. It's about an organisation who have been so good for so long - and enjoyed such steady streams of praise - that they lost sight of the message Reece's selection might send or the hurt that could be caused.

That's why this needn't be a time of national mourning. Instead it's a time for rugby and the All Blacks and NZR to be put in their proper place.

Not to be condemned or ridiculed; we don't need wholesale change. But we could do with an honest appraisal of things and a realisation or admission that the team aren't absolutely right about everything all of the time.

Ardie Savea with England's Joe Marler after the game, as Sonny Bill Williams looks on.

Ardie Savea congratulates England's Joe Marler as Sonny Bill Williams watches at the end of the semifinal. Photo: INPHO 2019

Loss reinforces case for not choosing Foster as next coach

Foster, for instance, should not be the next All Blacks' head coach. There's any number of reasons why, not least because a departure from this era wouldn't be a bad thing.

History will treat Hansen well. He's had bumps along the road, but he'll leave his post after the playoff for third and fourth having fashioned an unparalleled record of success.

A world cup title as assistant coach in 2011, backed up by one as boss four years later, puts him in a class of his own. Hansen's teams have played fine rugby and he's personally developed into a charming and authoritative figure.

But charisma and a strong track record don't entitle you to success. New Zealand don't have a divine right to hold the Rugby World Cup. We're about to have new world champions and that's a good result for everyone.

Teams lose rugby games and this time it was the All Blacks' turn. They might choose to feel sorry for themselves, but none of the rest of us should.

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