The All Blacks: A Polemic

by chrishattingh47

Weeks come and go, and so does the work we have to do at Varsity. Exams are upon us – quite a lot of people have already started writing. The exam period can be extremely stressful and demanding, so much so that people lose themselves in their work as they attempt to get that ideal result to further their respective futures. Naturally, students look for outlets for all the exam stress, some outlets being more colorful than others. That’s a discussion for another time. Today, I want to focus on my particular outlet – one which is constant, year in and year out, has always been there for me and forms part of my uniquely interesting personality: the All Blacks.

If one looks at it through the narrow prism of blind nationalism and of supporting a team or country simply because one was born in that country, one will judge me as being quite irrational in my support of the All Blacks. I wonder where we would be today if people didn’t question the majority and tried to look to the horizon. Let’s get one thing straight here: South Africa is a wonderful country. We are relatively free, despite the constant machinations of the communist ANC – need I remind everyone that it is solely thanks to them that this country was freed from Apartheid. No one else played a part, and don’t you dare disagree because then you are, of course, a racist. This country is a miracle and it is a wonder that it has not followed the constant stream of African countries into civil war, tribal divisions and continual dictorships. I will not stand in anyone’s way if they tell me they love this country and will fight for it – that is their birthright. However, that does not mean that I have to love it.  Where would we be if the majority was the only yardstick by which people acted?

I am not sure what the Springboks are nowadays. There are so many symbols adorning the Green & Gold jersey, the most striking of which is the fact that the Protea has replaced the Springbok over the heart of the jersey. Moreover, the Springbok was relegated to the sleeve during last year’s World Cup. Where is the respect for tradition, the pride? It astounds me that the people of this country allowed that to happen. Or perhaps they aren’t the Springboks anymore, but rather something new in the making? I cannot speak for those people, but I can give you my story. I will take tradition and a proven pedigree over commercialism and political correctness any day of the week. The reason that I have fallen in love with the All Blacks – a team which makes my heart pound with love and pride, as though they are my brothers – goes far beyond blind geographic parochialism. Sport is deeply personal. It offers us something else that can easily go missing in the 21st century – a social glue, a connective fabric that spans around the world, cutting across time and space. Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw, two of the greatest rugby players to ever play the game, re-signed with the NZRU not because of money, but because of their love of the Black jersey. During last year’s World Cup in New Zealand McCaw, the first player to earn his Silver cap for 100 games played for the All Blacks, played all of the matches with a screw in his foot. After 24 years of continued disappointment at World Cups, despite being the best team on the planet year in and year out, McCaw captained his team to World Cup glory. This after Dan Carter, the best fly-half to grace the game, was ruled out of the business end of the tournament. I still remember being up at about 3 AM that morning when the news broke that Carter had injured himself during training and was out of the tournament. I cannot do justice to my emotions at that time. Anyone who knows rugby knows how desperately the All Blacks wanted and needed to win that World Cup last year. The point is though, that this team never gives up. In 2010, they came to Soccer City, host to 94 000 passionate, vuvuzela-blowing  South Africans, and they won in the last minute thanks to an Israel Dagg try. Richie McCaw and his glorious men in Black did the unbelievable in 2011.

Relationships, bad ones, have come and gone. Matric finals, radical changes at university and friends change and pursue their own paths in life, yet the All Blacks always carry me. Somehow, they manage to inspire me, despite how shite my life might be at a given point in time. When they run onto the field, clad in that famous Black jersey, lay down the Haka and play their hearts and guts out, I experience the strongest, most uplifting feeling I have ever felt. They do not know me, but they play rugby with such aplomb and such grit that one cannot help but feel overwhelmed. I have never been driven to perform, to give my best, by anyone other than the magnificent men in Black. Other factors might influence me but they will never mean what this team means to me. I’m not going to tell you that I don’t support the Springboks because of Apartheid – enough people blame Apartheid to cover up for their incompetence and inability to govern this country. I love the All Blacks, even if I am the only person in my res or my university to do so. I have ingrained it into my psyche because I am fed up with the constant meddling of politicians in South African sport and people playing the race card.

Give me a rational reason as to why I should blindly support the constant messing up of grass-roots rugby, a player being screwed over because this politician wants to play some race-chess-game and the subtle despising of anything un-South African. Whatever the hell that term means. People always tell me that one cannot be ‘American’ because that country is just one huge congregation of immigrants – well, doesn’t the same principle apply to South Africa? Or am I missing something here? I support the All Blacks because they play rugby the way it should be played, they revolutionize the game year in and year out and they will play until they drop dead.

Perhaps people need to be just a little less reflexive and hot under the collar in branding South Africans who support various New Zealand rugby causes instantly traitorous. Could there be at least some element of truth to people throwing their weight behind teams from that country because they simply seem to play a more vibrant and joyous game so much of the time? There is often talk of sides from SA playing to “traditional strengths” … which to all intents and purposes means trying to pile-drive and/or boot their way to victory. The new Springbok coach is Heyneke Meyer, a veritable genius of a rugby tactician and the man who coached the Bulls to a 2007 Super Rugby triumph – the first SA team to win the new, expanded competition. The coach has picked the majority of players from the Bulls franchise, reinforcing my view that South African rugby is stagnant. Heck, he might yet wow the rugby world, and if this happens I will eat my words. Don’t count on that happening though. Also, it’s not just with the National team that there are problems. The Baby Boks were beaten by Ireland in their opening match of the IRB Junior Championships in Stellenbosch. In their own goddamn backyard, the future ‘stars’ of SA rugby looked decidedly weak and ineffective against a Northern Hemisphere Ireland which can hardly be credited with playing exciting rugby. There was no grit, no fire and no flipping pride in the way the Baby Boks played and if they are anything to go by I am not really that scared of the Springboks knocking the All Blacks off the world number 1 spot for years to come. Contrast the performance of the Baby Boks with that of the Baby Blacks who ran in an enthralling ball-in-hand 63-0 demolition of Samoa earlier that day.

I am very much aware of the fact that winning rugby does not necessarily require the razzle-dazzle of NZ rugby. Yet the Crusaders (from NZ) are the most successful Super Rugby team with 7 titles. In over a hundred years of rugby, the All Blacks hold an 84% winning record against all oppostion played. They have also won 74% of all test matches played, and hold a winning record against every Test nation in the world (including the British & Irish Lions, and the World XV). That small, tiny nation boasts a player pool of just 90,000 (Australia 250,000, South Africa 450,000, France 400,000, England 1,000,000) – yet they provide the bulk of the Rugby Hall of Fame. The NZ Sevens side has won 9 of the 12 annual tournaments since the inception of the tournament in 2000. Of course you can accuse me of being a glory supporter – you try and be an All Blacks supporter in this country. My psychological demeanor and nihilistic outlook on life after that horrible night the All Blacks were knocked out by France in the 2007 World Cup is indicative of the place this team holds in my heart and the fact that glory comes in far second when one has the privilege and honour of donning the Black jersey, and of supporting this team. Glory necessarily requires guts, grit and a fighting determinism of spirit, things which the All Blacks embody. I am not sure where my true ‘home’ in the world is, but it is not here in South Africa. I apologize if that offends you but I need something more. I need reality, not dreams of utopia, collectivism dressed up as ‘ubuntu’ and blind faith in the ‘Rainbow Nation’. I will never take that away from anyone else and no one else can deny my the chance to support the team I want to. Do not give me an easy time, do not bend over backwards to accommodate me, to make me feel okay, to cater to what I want. This is your country and you can be damn well proud of it, and of the Springboks. Test, try and insult me – being an All Blacks supporter could not be any sweeter.  The All Blacks physically embody that which fuels my very soul.

Go back to last year’s rugby World Cup highlights. Watch the final between the All Blacks and France and tell me you don’t get goosebumps as the final whistle blows.  I wear my team’s colours like it’s my own skin. Call these videos cheesy if you so wish, but at least watch them. Watch them and you will understand why I shed more than a few tears when they won the Cup last year, or you might at least experience a shiver down your spine:

World Cup:

All Blacks 2010:

Till next time, Kia Mau.