World Cup lead-up re­peat­ing it­self

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

To lis­ten to the naysay­ers, New Zealand’s World Cup rugby hopes are hang­ing by a thread after suc­ces­sive test de­feats. The 18-5 loss to South Africa in Port El­iz­a­beth was ex­cused eas­ily enough. But the 25-20 de­feat by Aus­tralia over the week­end is not easy to shrug off.

Gra­ham Henry had named a full­strength side, re­call­ing all his rock stars, and the Tri Na­tions tro­phy was at stake.

So now, ap­par­ently, the All Blacks can’t win. Zac Guild­ford should never have been cho­sen ahead of Hosea Gear, Adam Thomp­son is the new Reuben Thorne, Sonny Bill Wil­liams is more con­cerned about se­cur­ing a lu­cra­tive con­tract next year and the All Blacks are show­ing early signs of chok­ing. Don’t be­lieve any of it. The All Blacks weren’t great in Bris­bane, but they fought back well in the sec­ond half after be­ing an­ni­hi­lated in the first 40 min­utes.

More important, I don’t be­lieve the two losses will have the slight­est bear­ing on the World Cup re­sults.

Just look­ing at his­tory, the All Blacks couldn’t have had a worse lead-up to the 1987 World Cup. There was the hugely di­vi­sive 1986 Cava­liers tour of South Africa, and two-match sus­pen­sions for so many lead­ing play­ers. There was a se­ries de­feat by the Wal­la­bies, notable for the re­sound­ing loss in Auck­land. Then fol­lowed an unim­pres­sive tour of France.

Be­fore the World Cup, the All Blacks lost po­ten­tial cap­tain Jock Hobbs when he was forced into re­tire­ment by per­sis­tent con­cus­sions. Be­fore the open­ing match, the cap­tain, Andy Dal­ton, pulled a ham­string. He did not play a minute of the tour­na­ment.

From that se­ries of dis­as­ters emerged arguably the finest All Black team ever to rep­re­sent New Zealand. They won the World Cup as they pleased.

Look­ing at other sports, New Zealand’s lead-up to the 1992 cricket World Cup, which we part-hosted, couldn’t have been worse. They were ham­mered by Eng­land, and there was such dis­rup­tion in the ranks that the na­tional se­lec­tors dis­cussed re­mov­ing the cap­taincy from Martin Crowe, even rais­ing the is­sue with him.

From that low point, New Zealand played bril­liantly at the World Cup, with Crowe the tour­na­ment’s out­stand­ing bats­man and leader. But for bad luck (an un­timely in­jury to Crowe) they would have beaten Pak­istan to make the fi­nal.

What about ath­let­ics? Jack Love­lock was riven by doubt in Ber­lin as the 1936 Olympics be­gan. Should he run the 1500m or the 5000m? He fret­ted and couldn’t de­cide, so team man­ager Arthur Por­ritt took upon him­self what he called the ‘‘ter­ri­ble bur­den’’ of mak­ing the de­ci­sion for his run­ner.

Love­lock was told to run the 1500m and duly won the gold medal in world record time.

In 1976 John Walker ar­rived in Mon­treal a heavy favourite to win the Olympic 1500m. He looked less of a cer­tainty when he was bun­dled out of the 800m in an early round, but he bounced back to win a fa­mous gold medal.

The les­son is that a poor dress re­hearsal does not mean a bad per­for­mance on open­ing night.

It can ac­tu­ally work the other way. The loss to Aus­tralia will firm the All Blacks’ re­solve and they’ll be a more dan­ger­ous beast when the World Cup be­gins.

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