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Catch 22

Michael Oliver



The most heart-wrenching moment in the life of this young rugby supporter came at about 5:45am on some idle day in June back in 1995. I had built myself a fort-like structure out in the living room that was equipped with sleeping quarters and a stack of books to put my alarm clock on. I had donned my All Black’s jersey (surprisingly warm to sleep in, I might add), and braced myself for what I was certain would be a glorious moment in New Zealand sporting history.
I mean, c’mon! We had emasculated everything the British Isles had to throw at us; Jonah was a furious freight train with a classy eyebrow etching; Zinzan Brooke was slotting dropkicks from fifty metres out. It was destiny!
But, unfortunately, one man’s destiny is another one’s sleep-deprived weekend, and the All Blacks unceremoniously limped into second place behind the rainbow nation, South Africa, in a display of torrid rugby best remembered for Jeff Wilson vomiting on the sideline as Joel Stransky kicked that drop goal.
The ten-year old version of me had no concept of sporting fatigue and had simply added one dollop of All Black smackdown with a generous serving of destiny and expected to get a World Cup in return. It’s a naivety that has shrouded the New Zealand Rugby mindset ever since the first world cup in 1987; regardless of all internal frailties, inconsistencies, poor form and arrogance, it was simply our right, our goddamn right, to win that tournament.
That little teency wincy slip up in 1995, and the experience of 2003 has finally reconciled in the mind of New Zealand rugby supporters and has seminally built a mindset that says, “Yes, we’re daaamn good. But we will have to work to win this world cup thingie.”
Enter Graham Henry and his cartel, a rag-tag think-tank of rugby geniuses and pioneers, who in the space of three years have defended the Tri-Nations and the Bledisloe Cup, castrated the British Lions, grand slammed England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales like it ain’t no thing, and introduced a rotation policy that allowed them to pick an entirely different team and still enjoy a bevy of success.
One thing we must remember about Mr. Henry and his cartel is that Mr. Henry was in fact a high school principal in a former life. Need I remind you just what kind of man becomes a high school principal; a shrewd bastion of authority with an eagle eye and a sense of direction, (and a terminally glazed glare of grumpiness). Like the job he once occupied, Mr. Henry now finds himself having to shrewdly cast a new direction for his team, one that preferably cuts through World Cup winnersville.
We’ve already seen what kind of puzzle Henry and his cartel are trying to put together, a thirty-man team that can chop and change without so much as a tiny twinkblot being dropped on their game plan. I, myself am hesitant about this policy, but the results speak for themselves. We have a devilishly wicked amount of depth, and we’re not shy to show it off.
And so, we enter phase two, resting twenty two players from the first seven weeks of next year’s Super 14, with an eye to installing regimental fitness regimes to make them bigger, better, stronger than before. A re-energized All Blacks team would be a formidable force come World Cup time, and I think we can all agree that… Oh, I’m sorry? You! Yeah, you, squinty eyes, thinning hairline, chilling aura of evil. What’s your name? Rupert? What’s your problem there, Rupert my boy? Oh. Oh, I see. You don’t like the idea of twenty two All Blacks sitting out half of next year’s Super 14 because you think it will compromise television ratings and will therefore weaken the profit margins of your beloved News Corp?
Well, we certainly do appreciate your concern, Rupert, but… oh, Fox Sports Australia agrees with you too? Really? Australian television revenue will be compromised because of a lack of All Blacks playing? No, my contact lens prescription is quite up to date, thank you. If you’ll just sit down, wipe your brows, take a breath and listen, I’ll do my best to refute your soulful arguments and diminish them the best way I can.
While we New Zealand rugby fans are eternally grateful for the financial commitment you have shown our national sport, we would like to remind you that we have been force-fed a diet of banality every World Cup since 1987. Come France 2007, it will have been twenty years, twenty years since we’ve dined on the cream of World Cup glory. Things have gotten strenuous, and quite frankly, we can’t stand another heartbreak.
This cartel of rugby-minded men and their elite squadron of troops are our best hope of fetching that elusive trophy in two decades. We cannot stare chance blindly in the face and ignore it. Not again.
The upshot for you is, yes, you’ll be without Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw bringing in ‘the Benjamins’ for seven weeks. But, the throngs of World Cup victory will lap over New Zealand for years and years to come. Need I remind you that we are to host the 2011 world cup, the perfect crescendo to four years of growth and prosperity. We could make you rich, Rupert. Yeah baby, we could.
The Henry cartel are not the type to weep subserviently for the financial gripes of News Corp and its subsidiaries. They have one thing in mind – World Cup glory in 2007. And I can assure you, the twentytwo year old male huddled in his makeshift fort equipped with sleeping quarters, (now commonly referred to as a ‘flat’) shares those dreams too. Some of us would much rather wakeup smiling, basking in World Cup success than with dollar signs ringing in our eyes and television ratings racing through our minds.