Anybody else get a jolt when the words "New Zealand 2011" lit up at Stade de France by way of conclusion to Rugby World Cop 2007? Truly, there'll be no avoiding the bugger. One can only hope we'll be marginally sensible about it.
It's basically all been said about the All Blacks' unfortunate exit in 2007. Put it down to strategic errors, most notably in sending out a backline that hadn't played together before; a failure of the team to reach the basically unbeatable peak of recent years; a lack of experience and composure in turning around games that are going pear-shaped, on account of having been unbeaten for significant stretches of the past three years; and some outrageous fortune with injuries (We have to nail a crucial droppie with both first-fives off the field? And Richie was injured and sick?) and -- there is no point in denying it -- a disastrous refereeing performance that directly affected the result. Bugger.
Michael Lynagh wrote a pretty good blog post about it. And let's not forget the mauling of the Lions, the Home Nations Grand Slam and the dual thrashing of France at home -- all of them rugby feats with a longer tradition than the World Cup. We're just crap at the Cup is all.
But please, spare me the lectures about how we have to learn to be "more like England". Did you actually see England in the final? Yes, they had tons of courage up front and they faithfully employed their limited game plan, but there came a point where they actually needed to do something different, or lose the damn game.
And what did they do? Kept on booting the bloody ball up in the air -- sometimes when players were in the kind of space that the All Blacks would have dreamed of at Cardiff -- in the hope of profiting from a defensive error that never came. They were trebly guilty of the very thing of which the All Blacks are reflexively accused: not having a Plan B. And they didn't kick a sodding drop goal.
Even their complaints about the referee weren't as good as ours. I take it I wasn't the only one thinking it would've been lovely to have had Alain Rolland in Cardiff.
England will get away with it, in part because expectations were lower, but mostly because their journalists, who do so much to determine the narrative, won't acknowledge any critical flaw.
South Africa, undefeated through the tournament, thoroughly deserved their victory, but I don't see many of their fans claiming they were brilliant. They had some superb players in key positions, and if things had gone differently, their sheer efficiency might well have seen them through a final against the All Blacks. But a team for the ages? No.
So what to make of the 2007 tournament? The English scribes have brandished the word "extraordinary", because their team went from zeroes to sort-of heroes when no one expected it. Argentina surprised even themselves, but can't be expected to be a consistent force in international rugby unless their key players' European clubs release them for more matches, every season. And that ain't gonna happen. Ditto for Tonga and Fiji.
So, although France kept their dream alive at our expense, this isn't a tournament that will be remembered for rugby that redefined the game. And now, of course, the game is about to be redefined with a new set of rules. Is there any other major game subject to the kind of regular revision that rugby endures?
Things get yet weirder from here on: another bunch of All Black novices comes in next year to replace the departed, some of whom will return three years hence to try and reclaim their positions for the 2011 Cup. Lord only knows what Chris Rattue will write between now and then.
Meanwhile, the venue for the 2011 Rugby World Cup final is in flux. A mayor with the votes of
0.019% 1.9% of New Zealand's registered voters has thrown a spanner in the works, and we'll doubtless have a whole lot of bickering between now and kick-off. But there will be a kick-off. So, even if our Word Cup curse cannot be lifted, could we perhaps not doubly embarrass ourselves?
PS: Thanks so much to everyone who has commented here, but more so to our contributors: Grant Robertson and The Dropkicks, who got world famous in the course of doing what good bloggers do: taking recourse to the facts. And, of course, many thanks to the sponsor of Some Foreign Field, Whisky Galore.Visit their online store and, if you happen to be in Christchurch, find a little time to see them at 797 Colombo Street, just past the Kilmore Street corner, for a dram and a chat. You will like them.