A stark take-away from the brilliant rugby documentary ‘By the balls’ was about how two polar opposites in background were bedevilled by multiple challenges and ever-present self-doubt, and yet had the courage and strength to make it through the effluent; finally emerging as World Cup champions.
That being David Kirk and John Kirwan- the two rebels who shunned the Cavaliers tour to South Africa in 1986. They were then, perhaps worse than the former even, hideously forced to ride out the vicious reaction of the returning old boy’s mafia at really the wrong time; just as the smug Alan Jones arrived with the formidable 1986 Wallabies in this country.
There’s likely never been such a drastic contrast in the history of All Blacks’ relationships between the clean-cut Kirk and the bolshiness and practically and ostensibly fear- inducing persona of older vets like Andy Haden and Murray Mexted. There’s been enough dots in the past that can be joined to make that assumption with confidence.
There was also the engrossing sub-plot of the chasm between the backgrounds of Kirwan and Kirk- the Butcher’s apprentice and the Academic. The former beset by self-doubt from a young age; from being ashamed by a self-proclaimed lack of intelligence to finding pressure and fame very hard to cope with. The latter, who was around four years older, a leader as well, and logically far better equipped to handle any noxious reaction to their perceived traitorous behaviour in abstaining from the Cavaliers.
After surely one of the greatest victories in All Blacks’ history, by the ‘Baby Blacks’ on Lancaster Park against France, that almost identical team lost by only a point, 12-13 in the next test to Australia on Athletic Park. Unfortunately the loss led to the selectors pushing the panic button, and most of the old guard were rushed back for the next encounter.
The repercussions of which were horribly laid bare for Kirk- on Carisbrook in the second test he was even frozen out (it was Dunedin, mind) of the forward huddles. Editing can be misleading, especially when there’s only snippets to go years later, but it looked as though Kirk was being sent to Coventry on purpose. No wonder the poor guy couldn’t get the troops up enough to avoid a Wallaby mauling on Eden Park in the decider.
How fitting then, that on June 20, 1987, in the World Cup final against France, the final try, the coup de grace, was delivered by way of a break of thirty metres or so by Kirk, who handed on to the force that was Wayne Shelford, and finally to Kirwan, who steamed in for the try, obliterating the corner post to smithereens in the tackle of the Hall of Famer, Phillippe Sella. At last look, that very corner post had ‘1986’ written down the side.