Last night, Spinoff editor Mad Chapman asked Scotty Stevenson to write about the All Blacks’ loss to Ireland. He responded with this.
Thank you for kindly requesting 800 words on the All Blacks’ first home series loss since 1994. I am very humbled that you would want any, and so many, words from me about the current state of affairs, but I am afraid it’s just not possible.
For starters I am not entirely sure what you would like me to say. Would you like me to go all the way back to Eden Park, which seems an eternity ago now given the surreal events of the last two weeks, or would you like me to provide a detailed breakdown of the third test during which the home side spectacularly collapsed under its own weight, becoming not so much All Black as All Black hole?
The latter would certainly be easy. I could mention the fourth minute penalty conceded by Sam Cane for an early tackle on Josh van der Flier which led directly to Ireland’s first try. Or I could talk about the eighth minute lineout failure, or two others inside the opening quarter which certainly set the tone of the rest of the match. On the subject of lineouts we could discuss the drive defence, which seemed about as organised as a toddlers’ disco and allowed Ireland to score their second try in the 27th minute. I could talk about the 36th minute lineout loss on attack, swiftly capitalised upon by the Irish who went under the bar for a third try a minute later.
I could do that, but what a yawnfest for you and for me. It would be much more exciting to discuss the home side’s third quarter comeback, during which Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan all scored tries befitting their prodigious talents, but that would only serve to illustrate something that has become patently obvious over the last two seasons, which is of course that this All Blacks team looks and plays like a collection of individuals, bereft of the cohesion and harmony that has long been a hallmark of all great sides.
Compare and contrast with The Tears of Peter O’Mahoney, which is both a catchy name for a Celtic ballad, and evidence of the genuine and bone deep soul of the Irish team.
Anyway, all of this is to say I really can’t write this for you because I suspect you are after one of those pithy player critiques, and don’t think for a second you’ll find me criticising the effort of the New Zealand players. I’ve been around this game long enough to know that you just don’t go there. Effort is not the issue. It never is. But trust, on the other hand… Does this look like a team that trusts what it is doing out there? Beauden Barrett is playing with all the joy of an accountancy conference, and so many of the penalties conceded over the last two weeks are straight out of the President’s Grade Dumbfuckery Handbook (A funny enough read, but hardly what one would consider high art).
No, to hell with this! Even if I tried to do it, I would inevitably have to shuffle out to the shed and grab that favourite axe of mine, resigning myself to spending invaluable time, and whatever words remained, grinding it. And who needs that on such a fine and crisp winter’s morning? Not me! I have no desire to revisit the harebrained arrogance of the New Zealand national body which has, over the last decade, decimated club rugby, killed the National Provincial Championship, homogenised Super Rugby, burned Australia, Argentina and South Africa (And guess which nation’s clubs now play regularly against teams from the latter?) and told all who would listen, and many who didn’t really care, how much they were worth.
Maybe next time, if you were interested, I could write something about what happens when you package up 120 years of respected representative sporting success, call it a brand, and sell it off to Oxbridge dudebro buddies in an act of ego-inflating, nausea-inducing corporate capriciousness. Now that would be a read.
In the meantime, there’s nothing that can be said other than once upon a time, innovation underpinned the game here in New Zealand. All Blacks teams consistently imposed their tactical superiority on others, convinced (and rightly so) that an abundance of athletic and technical ability existed within the nation’s broad church of styles. That broad church has been reduced to a cult, a one-size-fits-all approach informed not by variety but by reactionary methodology and protectionist ideology. How fitting that the team that spooked New Zealand Rugby so badly in 2016 returned this month to shout “Boo!”
Anyway, we all have our bad days, and unfortunately you’ve got me on one so, again, I thank you for the request, but I’ll have to politely decline.