My eldest son wanted me to leap to Andy Haden’s defence this week because he thinks there may have been some truth to what he said; that he was just being cynical when he uttered the nasty “darkies” word; and that Haden has a point about the physicality of players dictating their style of play.
“If you’re strong, maybe you are more likely to go through the wall than around,” he says.
Her son is quite perceptive, in my opinion.
It sounds reasonable. My son is a smart 17-year-old, a history and politics buff who has never played rugby. He’s doing his best to resist the stereotypes, but he slips too easily into the generalisations being peddled by Haden and others in the rugby fraternity – that New Zealand rugby is being ruined by the dominance of Pacific Island players: big, dim-witted oafs who aren’t capable of playing intelligently.
As with any race-based theory, there’s always a grain of truth. Everybody knows, don’t they, that the island boys are explosive, physical and instinctive, rather than tactical and strategic like the white players.
Almost all stereotypes are based on an element of truth. Otherwise they don’t become stereotypes.
Ergo, the browning of New Zealand rugby is bad. Thanks to Pacific Island players we will never be great again.
Or so the thesis goes. The problem is it lumps Pacific Islanders into a one-size-fits-all problem, as if all players of Pacific descent are cast in the same mould. It ignores the enormous differences between Pacific people, and the range of talents, strengths and weaknesses each individual brings to the game. And that’s short-sighted as well as racist.
And this is the key point. Stereotypes and generalisations can have a place in discussing trends and issues, but it is offensive when you use it to define a group of people in a way which ignores their individuality.
Who exactly is the quintessential Pacific Island player, anyway?
Is it the religious, never-on-a-Sunday Michael Jones, who in his heyday was ranked the best flanker in the world?
Or Sione Lauaki, who seems to get into trouble every time he goes out?
What about Bryan Williams, Joe Stanley, Olo Brown, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Rodney So’oialo, Mils Muliaina, Keven Mealamu, or George Smith in Australia? Where do they fit on the continuum?
The idea that these players share some kind of inherent mental inadequacy based on their Pacific heritage is ridiculous and wrong. It’s as ridiculous and wrong as the corollary that every Pakeha rugby player is an intellectual giant.
Heh, far far from it.Just think about some of those who are now rugby commentators 🙂
It goes without saying that rugby requires different kinds of physical and mental abilities.
Let’s by all means talk about the need for balance in our rugby sides. But if players are being picked for the wrong skills, whose fault is that?
For my 2c, good rugby teams need both instinctive and tactical players. A team of 15 instinctive players will never follow any sort of game strategy while a team of 15 tactical players might never score a try 🙂
And one can recognise that players from different races tend to be more one sort, than another, but that is as far as it goes. The merits and skills of the individual is what decisions should always be based on.
And if New Zealand rugby hasn’t worked out how to get the best out of the Pacific players it selects, then maybe it needs to spend more time finding out what makes its players tick and how it can take advantage of the diverse talents on offer in this country. …
Canterbury seems to be on to something – and if we’re to believe the denials, it’s not what Haden and others seem to believe.
The franchise seems to pick the best individuals based on nothing more mysterious than the skills and qualities its selectors think they’ll bring to the game and the team.
And then it puts time and effort into making them better.
That’s what works – not some real or imagined racist quota.