I was on my bike, literally, by the time the post-match interviews were underway. It was a lovely morning, and the streets were quiet between home and Coyle Park, the green area at the point of Point Chevalier. Just the odd glum driver trundling home, those silver fern flags fluttering pointlessly from the windows.
I pulled up at the park and sat on one of the benches, overlooking the harbour for a few minutes. The tide was low, but the water shimmered in the sunshine and the breeze was light. What a nice place to live, I thought.
On return, I cooked a brunch of free-range bacon, breakfast sausages, poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and lekkerbrot bread with Rocket Fuel sauce while I listened to Finlay Macdonald and Bill Ralston (who make a great team, by the way) insist they wouldn't mention the rugby on Radio Live, then raise it with every guest. To make it worse, the album of the week -- selected by Finlay's usual host Andrew Patterson before he went on holiday -- was James Blunt. It was actually funny.
So was the scene at St Lukes mall a couple of hours later, when I dropped to kids off at the movies. People -- men especially -- were wandering about distractedly, hoping that a little commerce night change the subject.
Throughout out the day, I argued the toss and commiserated with the regulars in our World Cup blog about what had happened. My philosophical mood rather eroded as I watched clips of the critical incidents.
I checked the readers' comment sections on the Stuff and Herald sites, and was additionally depressed by the bile, recrimination and hacking at tall poppies. Some New Zealanders are really ghastly at times like this.
It is only a game. But what exactly did happen? We've all heard the theories:
The Rotation Policy
Maybe, in the case of the midfield, where playing a fine fullback at centre again proved a fateful decision. It might all have been different if Conrad Smith had been playing all year; or if Tana Umaga had hung on for the World Cup. But the core of the team wasn't in doubt, and the All Blacks have come into late-season tours in Europe and monstered the opposition with anyone the coaches cared to put on the field. But in a wider sense, yes: everything about our rugby was sacrificed to the World Cup and it didn't work.
The All Blacks were "arrogant"
Easy to type, but what does it mean? That they thought they'd stroll to victory? I don't think so. You can't help being overwhelming favourites. Everyone thought so, including the Australian who dropped five million dollars with the bookies yesterday. If anything, they struggled to carry the burden of expectation.
The All Blacks played like showponies and you can't do that and win the big ones
Eh? The All Black tight forwards were magnificent and Ali Williams had his best game for his country. They dominated the set-pieces and had nearly three quarters of the possession. Indeed, you had to wish they had thrown it around a bit more. I can't recall seeing an All Black team so shy of instinct.
But one thing occurs to me in light of this: does the All Blacks "private shrink" Gilbert Enoka ever have a performance review? You have to wonder ...
The All Blacks didn't have a Plan B
Yep, they did. They just carried it out so grimly and mechanically that it became the problem. How many times have we armchair coaches urged them to tighten it up, hang on to the ball and win ugly? They did what they had discussed doing while they were a man down: kept the ball close, soaked up time. It didn't work. I think the captain has to accept some responsibility for allowing that to drag on.
Was Dan Carter 100% fit when he took the field? At any rate, he was below his best. Losing his replacement, Nick Evans, to an injury shortly afterwards, was really foul luck. And losing Jerry Collins perhaps hurt more than anything else. Yes, the French lost Bentsen, but a deal with the Devil that kept them both on the field would have been just fine with me.
The French defended brilliantly
And how. The French made 176 tackles compared to the All Blacks' 36. That's a barely credible statistic, but apparently it happened. I still don't understand how they could do that much defending -- and so effectively slow down the All Black ball -- and concede only two penalties in the entire match (and none in the second half). Indeed, there were a whole suite of penalties that might have been awarded in this last-gasp incident on the French line. Which brings us to …
I know Paddy O'Brien's told us all to grow up, but I can't see the point in being all staunch and insisting Wayne Barnes' performance didn't have a significant impact on the result. It clearly did. In the case of McAllister's sin-binning, Jauzion milked it (you can see him fly backwards, arms flailing as if from some mighty impact while McAllister, who is presumably made of solid granite, just turns and runs back toward his line) and Barnes, in his second year of test refereeing, lost his composure. Barnes blew his whistle nine times before he calmed down enough to talk to the players and send McAllister from the field. You could almost hear his heartbeat jackhammering in his ears. Having looked at the clip more times than is probably wise, I don't think it was even a penalty. Missing the forward pass in the clinching French try was forgivable, given that he was unsighted, but on another day perhaps that wouldn't have happened either. I guess it's our fault for following a game where officiating isn't so much a matter of adjudication as opinion.
The game would only have to have been microscopically different for the narrative to have changed entirely. Had the forward pass been spotted and the ball returned to where it had been most of the time -- in the French half, in the hands of the All Blacks -- we'd probably have been hailing So'oialo's try as evidence of the All Blacks grinding their way back against outrageous fortune. If the All Blacks had snared that drop goal -- with both first-fives off the field -- or earned that elusive penalty on attack, it would have been "All Blacks snatch victory in thriller".
But they didn't, and what one of our correspondents characterised as a "cosmic joke" continues. But it's only a game, and I've had a hell of a lot of fun watching the All Blacks play in the past three years; they have frequently been brilliant. I'm going about my business and the young men involved will be feeling worse than anyone. I hope none of the bilious fools spewing angrily onto the newspaper forums gets within cooee of the team, because they don't need it. And neither do I.
PS: Jeremy Andrew has again won the Whisky Galore ad copy competition with "The whisky is younger than the All Blacks' losing streak ... but much easier to swallow ...". I have one more bottle of whisky to award, so keep trying once you know the result of Argentina-Scotland. I'll have to discuss the extent of the promotion with the good people at Whisky Galore now, but if you were to pop into their online store for a look, that would be nice.