18 Nov 2020

Apathy setting in for All Blacks fans – Bidwell

3:19 pm on 18 November 2020

Opinion - Sam Cane's clearly a big fan of yours. And mine and anyone else who dares to offer an opinion on the All Blacks.

A dejected Sam Cane after they are beaten by the Pumas. Tri Nations rugby union test match. New Zealand All Blacks v Argentina Pumas. Bankwest Stadium, Sydney, Australia. 14th Nov 2020. Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz

All Blacks captain Sam Cane Photo: PhotoSport / David Neilson

Played five, won two is the team's record since Cane became captain and Ian Foster head coach, including losses on consecutive Saturdays to world rugby superpowers Australia and Argentina.

Cane's response to those defeats, via a television interview, has been to question the rugby intellect of fans. To tell them that they don't have a right to voice a view, because they don't see what happens behind the scenes, and to assert that their comments are "hateful'' and "disrespectful.''

It's an interesting ploy and perhaps indicative of the bubble professional teams cocoon themselves in. I don't mean of the Covid variety, either.

Out here in the real world, where we saps who pay television subscriptions and buy tickets to watch the All Blacks play live, we wonder what people such as Cane and Foster have done to deserve their status. We also judge them on their public deeds and words, because that's all the access our hard-earned coin entitles us to.

If the team plays poorly and then the captain insults our collective intelligence are we going to a) tell him he's a top bloke and wish the players better luck next time or b) hope they keep losing in hope of a change?

I'm loving this international season and I suspect a few others are too. I honestly can't get enough of watching these befuddled All Blacks blunder from one loss to the next.

Rarely has our national team seemed so utterly ill-prepared for everything the opposition throws at them.

Good on Argentina for beating Cane and company 25-15 on Saturday. It was an historic moment for which everyone with a stake in Argentine rugby should feel immensely proud.

And, at the risk of looking a fool in Cane's eyes, I'm going to venture a view on how the Pumas did it. It was by trying hard.

Argentina aren't especially talented. In fact they possess only one world-class player. But they tried really, really hard on Saturday and the All Blacks had no answer.

I could have told you the Pumas would do that. That they'd contest hard in the scrums and lineouts and at the breakdown, that they'd rush up on defence and try and hit New Zealand's ball-runners behind the gainline.

Argentina did that because that's all they're capable of. Energy and effort, passion. They also knew, as we do, that if you can tackle the All Blacks, they will run out of ideas.

We're so used in this country to giving the ball to the best player - from kids' rugby right on up to test matches - and watching them run through or around opponents. When that doesn't happen, we're flummoxed.

Or at least that's how it looks. Behind the scenes, where it 'really' counts, Cane says there's some tremendous work going on.

All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has Sam Cane's backing. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The team apparently has great confidence in each other and their coaches and there's complete clarity around everyone's role and the tactics they're going to employ. It's just not showing on the paddock.

I'm sorry, but a pattern of pathetic performances is emerging here. Of occasions where the team looks uncoached and hurried cobbled together and completely unaware of how to combat their opponent.

The British and Irish Lions and England and Ireland and South Africa have all exposed that in these players and, to a degree, you can probably accept that. Those are elite teams, after all.

But when Australia and Argentina expose that kind of ineptitude, that's unforgivable. And that's on the coach and the captain and the people who put them in those positions. Or are none of us entitled to think that or say that?

The worst thing I sense about these defeats is the apathy. The feeling that people expected this. That they believed Foster and Cane weren't the best candidates and that they'd start watching and caring again once there was a different crowd in charge.

Cane's called out a section of the fanbase and questioned their motives and intellect and maybe that's fair enough, maybe it's not.

The worry for New Zealand Rugby, though, is all the people who aren't even paying attention.

I didn't expect protestors to march on parliament and to see the coach and captain burnt in effigy, but the muted response to losses to two comparative rugby minnows suggests we're not as invested in these All Blacks as NZR needs us to be.

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