Part 5 of 5 looking at those Rugby World Cup exits. The abomination to end all abominations
Three more years of the All Blacks being back to their best; the highlight of which was the complete demolition of the Lions in 2005.
It was a side built around McCaw and Carter; both of whom took play to a new level. And it was a combination of forward pack dominance with a pace of play that set the standard for others to follow.
Almost all matches were won in style; the main exception being against South Africa in Rustenburg in a dead rubber at the end of 2006, which meant that Jake White kept his job going into World Cup year.
But then, with a year to go before the World Cup, the coaching staff decided they needed to get cute. Enter an official policy of Rest and Rotation. A plan was submitted to the NZRU 12 months out saying that here is your World Cup squad, and we want them to play limited rugby in 2007.
Bizarrely, the Union agreed. Without even blinking.
Henry meant it though. “Judge me on the World Cup”.
So, in Super Rugby 2007, 26 All Blacks, picked for a tournament 12 months before it started, took minimal part. Rested from a tournament starting in February for a couple of matches in October.
The fact that the primary rugby competition was therefore ruined, and season ticket-holders were swindled didn’t come into it. Let alone the fact that it was clearly a daft idea, removing concepts of competition and combinations.
Then the secondary plan. Good people make good All Blacks. There was a new selection criteria. All Blacks were to be role-models. Which really went against the history of any decent sporting side. Everyone put on a pedestal perhaps? Anyway, Nonu, Cowan and Weepu were left out of the World Cup squad.
The other curious aspect to the naming of the squad was that Ali Williams was the only fit lock selected; always a risky strategy.
Toe-curling associated promotional campaign:
Not one but two hanging off this World Cup. And they competed each other in a race for the high ground of inappropriateness.
First of all there was the “Bonded by Blood” poster idea. Sterilised DNA was taken from each member of the All Black squad and woven into a poster featuring a photo of the side imposed on a native background.
Slogans such as “Rugby. It runs through your veins” and “Stand in black. It’s in our blood” were used in the campaign.
If that wasn’t creepy enough there was then the “All Blacks of This Earth” sideshow. The 30-man squad each carried a capsule of earth from every New Zealand rugby ground that was once trodden on by one of the 1071 men chosen to represent New Zealand. Of course they wouldn’t have; that would have been too risky but that’s digression.
Naturally the capsules were banned from France; only replicas were allowed, but this was the attempt at connecting with grass-roots NZ rugby. Literally.
And all of this in a year when the leading players were wrapped in cotton wool.
The Easy Stuff:
Way too easy in fact.
A strange draw saw the All Blacks in the same pool as the complete second tier of European rugby. Italy were dispatched early in style and there was the obligatory 100 point thrashing; this time over Portugal (yes they play rugby too apparently).
Scotland was meant to be the decent run-out before the real matches started, but they also caught the rotation disease and played their B side in preparation for the following week’s clash against Italy. The All Blacks won that 40 – 0, but ended up the group stage, after not breaking sweat against Romania very underdone.
A couple of hours before the quarter final against France kicked off Australia had been upset by an English side that had lost 36-0 to South Africa in pool play. Great news; the path to the final just got that little bit easier.
In a reversal of the 2003 semi-final, Muliaina, despite being ranked as the world’s best fullback for the previous couple of years, was picked at centre, while MacDonald reverted to fullback. A loss of a coin toss meant the All Blacks played in a shade of grey normally reserved for the Warriors.
Once again, it started well enough though. An early McAlister try, and the All Blacks lead 13-3 at the break. But then things turned when the same player was sin-binned early on in the second half for a late shoulder charge.
Frederic Michalak came on for France, and immediately sparked a counter-attack that led to a try by Jauzion. It was the sort of move that we had seen in the 1999 semi-final although it did include a pretty decent sized forward pass. The try was converted; France were ahead by two.
So the All Blacks threw the kitchen sink at the French in the last 15 minutes. Having 90% of the ball they persisted with one-off runners hammering at a French defence that was by now totally committed. But this was not really an All Black team as such; more a collection of not fully fit individuals lacking any creativity or imagination in their attacks.
Still no drop goal. Leonard kept running into a blue wall and the tears started to fall in the stand. With time up, McAllister (yes him again) finally tried a drop-goal. But this was only after the All Blacks had for once been pushed back to halfway. It fell woefully short.
A metaphor for how badly the side had melted down. Came home in an ambulance.
France 20 – 18 New Zealand
France went on to lose to England in the semi who in turn went on to lose to South Africa in the final.
The one thing management did get right was to make sure the premature flight home arrived in via Christchurch. PR masters to the end.
And then there was the Independent Inquiry. This review was performed by Mike Heron; old friend of Steve Tew and Jock Hobbs. So a really large piece of black carpet was dragged out, and most of the dirt managed to be swept under it.
There was nothing wrong with Rest & Reconditioning; after all the people doing the review approved of it in the first place. Gatland smelt a rat and took up the Wales offer before the formalities had been completed.
No; it was all down to refereeing. Well that and the grey jersey.
Henry got four more years, referee Barnes got all sorts of Facebook pages devoted to him, grey was ditched as the alternate strip, and Deans finally accepted those phone calls from John O’Neill.
Previously in this blogging equivalent of Miles Davis 24 years song:
1991: The Team of Two Halves
Enter the spirit. Order your Wait of a Nation t-shirt.