‘Re­mem­ber ’93’ be­came the bat­tle cry for Fitz­patrick’s side

A Twick­en­ham de­feat 25 years ago hurt the All Blacks leg­end badly, he tells Oliver Brown

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union -

De­feats at Twick­en­ham, rare birds though they are for the All Blacks, lodge in the Kiwi sport­ing psy­che like poi­soned dag­gers. Just ask Sean Fitz­patrick, who in 1993 presided over a 15-9 loss that he would come to re­gard as an in­deli­ble stain. “It be­came our bat­tle cry, ‘Re­mem­ber ’93’,” he re­flects. “From that day on, we never wanted to go through the same ex­pe­ri­ence again.”

For the lat­est New Zealand vin­tage, a sim­i­larly grim ref­er­ence point is of­fered by the shel­lack­ing the team suf­fered in 2012. Var­i­ously at­trib­uted to the jet heels of Manu Tu­ilagi and some sus­pect take­aways from a Malaysian res­tau­rant, which laid sev­eral play­ers low, that 38-21 hu­mil­i­a­tion is one still serv­ing as pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tion six years on.

“We don’t whinge about it, but we don’t for­get,” Fitz­patrick says.

“It just shows you that if you take us on, there’s al­ways the chance we might have an off-day. That’s what we now re­alise as All Blacks, that our op­po­nents will often have the game of their lives. Look at Eng­land in 2012, or Ire­land in 2016, when they beat us in Chicago.”

When study­ing Fitz­patrick’s own ca­reer, en­com­pass­ing 92 Tests, 51 as cap­tain, and a record 63 in a row with­out in­jury, the series win at Lof­tus Vers­feld in 1996 – New Zealand’s first ever on South African soil, cre­at­ing talk of those All Blacks as “In­com­pa­ra­bles” – stands out as per­haps the defin­ing feat. But it is the con­fronta­tions at Twick­en­ham that he re­calls with the great­est af­fec­tion. “It’s a very in­tense en­vi­ron­ment. The crowd aren’t right on top of you, like they used to be at Cardiff Arms Park, but you feel the his­tory of the game. As a young boy grow­ing up 12,000 miles away, I never imag­ined I would be run­ning out on to the same misty ground where the leg­ends played.”

Four years in the mak­ing, this 41st meet­ing be­tween the teams was once billed as a dress re­hearsal for next au­tumn’s World Cup fi­nal in Yoko­hama.

All the lat­est ev­i­dence sug­gests, though, that Eng­land should har­bour no such delu­sions of grandeur. The tail­spin to which they suc­cumbed ear­lier this year is a re­minder of the fragility that the All Blacks could yet ex­ploit with sav­age ruth­less­ness.

In Fitz­patrick’s view, the fault for this de­cline in form lies less with head coach Ed­die Jones than with a sys­tem that wears play­ers out through their sheer vol­ume of com­mit­ments for club and coun­try. “The pres­sure that’s put on Eng­land play­ers to com­pete in both the Pre­mier­ship and in­ter­na­tional rugby makes life dif­fi­cult,” he ar­gues. “Be­ing cen­trally-con­tracted makes a huge dif­fer­ence. It’s no sur­prise that the two strong­est coun­tries in world rugby at the mo­ment, New Zealand and Ire­land, op­er­ate with cen­tral con­tracts.”

All that said, it is one of the glar­ing anom­alies in sport that the tale of the tape be­tween Eng­land and New Zealand re­mains so lop-sided. The All Blacks, whose phi­los­o­phy, Fitz­patrick in­sists, in­volves noth­ing more com­plex than prepa­ra­tion and sac­ri­fice, have won 32 matches to the mother coun­try’s seven. It is a dom­i­nance that Eng­land are still no closer to threat­en­ing.

Fitz­patrick, who has suc­ceeded Ed­win Moses as chair­man of the Lau­reus World Sports Academy, has a more rounded ap­pre­ci­a­tion than most of the magic the All Blacks con­tinue to weave. “In sport, For­mula One driv­ers are prob­a­bly the clos­est thing I have seen to the All Blacks, purely be­cause ev­ery­one in those teams are ded­i­cated to get­ting two cars over the line first,” ex­plains the 55-year-old, who will be analysing for Sky at Twick­en­ham.

“It’s the same with New Zealand rugby. Play­ers could earn more money in Europe, but they think only of wear­ing the black jer­sey. Ul­ti­mately, that’s our job – to make sure the le­gacy con­tin­ues. It makes you feel very hum­bled.”

Bad mem­o­ries: ‘We don’t whinge, but we don’t for­get,’ says Sean Fitz­patrick about de­feats for the All Blacks

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