You’d think after our own ignominious exits from various Rugby World Cups, that we’d spare a thought for the Poms; ejected unceremoniously from their very own RWC. Yeah nah. Not happening.
I was born in England and came to NZ as a young child. I have family there and a deep respect for English culture and history. Then there’s that famous aphorism seen on T shirts in NZ “I cheer for the All Blacks and any team playing Australia”. Whilst it was exciting to see England fight back in the second half and make a contest of it (if only for a portion of the game), I can’t hide the fact that I was rooting for Australia AND thrilled to see the Poms beaten. For most kiwis, this is a no brainer but when you have residual ties to England and I normally am quite pleased when anyone beats the arrogant Aussies, there is a special package of reasons why I personally was so pleased to see England out.
The English players, coaches, selectors and media went into a frenzy when England beat the All Blacks so comprehensively at the end of the Northern Hemisphere tour in December 2012. Steve Hansen gave the hysteria more legs when he opined that England were 2015 RWC title contenders. Since then, the inevitability of England hoisting the Webb Ellis trophy has been the arrogant assumption of English rugby at every level. By the time the tournament started, we were all sick of the smug arrogance of Lancaster and his players who talked about their chances at Fortress Twickenham and of their 2012 victory over New Zealand as if they’d beaten us 5 times in a row!
But it goes deeper than that. Australia rugby writers love the Wallabies and Aussie TV commentary is suitably and typically one eyed – but amongst those who commentate knowledgeably on rugby in Australia, there is a deep and abiding respect for the All Blacks. Not so with the Pommy media scribes. Not only is there far less respect but there is the persistent drum beat of vituperative attacks on key All Blacks the most obvious being the oft repeated claims by English rugby writers that Richie McCaw is a cheat.
As I analysed my glee at seeing what was effectively my own countrymen going down, I reflected on the boorish English crowds. I was at the fateful semi final game in Sydney for the 2003 RWC. I had an All Blacks shirt on so I was fair game for the mostly Australian spectators as I left. There was virtually no taunting or mocking – elation for sure that Australia was in the final, but belying this attitude was the respect Australian rugby fans have for the ABs. Not so English crowds. I’ve never been to Twickers but a good mate now resident in London goes there often to watch internationals and he says the crowds are awful to visiting teams and most especially to New Zealand.
Part of my ambivalence to English rugby is borne of the stultifying, sluggish forwards dominated style of rugby that prevails in England courtesy of their sodden muddy fields which has given us decades of ugly English rugby. But it goes further – it’s the whistle happy pedantic refereeing style that emanates from England and, via England’s historical dominance of the IRB, spills over to almost all the northern hemisphere referees. I’ve come up hard against that as a referee here in the US where English style whistle happy pedantry is the cultural norm among the US raised referees.
Finally, at a gut almost visceral level, we in New Zealand love to see our former colonial masters, the mother country who brought us our national game and who still arrogantly influence the governance of the game internationally, finally not just beaten but utterly humiliated. Roll on a great Australia New Zealand final!!