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Rugby World Cup: Cut the corporate speak boys, time to get nasty


Dalton Papali’i of the All Blacks after the match against France on 8 September 2023.
Photo: Andrew Cornaga/www.photosport.nz

Opinion – On Saturday morning, we’re hopefully going to see a welcome sight: an All Blacks win – a sign that the World Cup campaign is back on track and some smiles on the players’ faces as they leave the field.

Because right now, the positive signs that we saw in the first five tests of the year seem an awful long time ago.

Getting smacked by the Boks at Twickenham was one thing. Getting rolled by France in Paris was something else, because you couldn’t write that one off as meaningless.

The 27-13 loss exposed some serious issues in a team that is seemingly still figuring out how it wants to play.

That’s not based just on the results but also on the way the team has been communicating in the wash-up of the defeats.

The dreaded non-word ‘learnings’ has been uttered plenty of times in the context of how many positive things have been taken from another unwanted record – the most points an All Blacks team has conceded in consecutive tests.

Ian Foster, Jason Ryan and Scott McLeod all highlighted the good periods of play over the past couple of weeks ad nauseum.

Ardie Savea mentioned the other constant All Blacks soundbyte, to “express themselves”.

The problem is that this sort of interchangeable language does nothing except flatten out conversation and make fans wonder just what the difference is between a win and a loss. Especially since the All Blacks’ biggest problem right now is their inability to impose their will on their opposition.

A lot of people might not like hearing this, but rugby is not won by being nice, and test matches are won by figuratively putting your boot on the back of the other guy’s head, pushing it down into the turf and holding it there while they squirm. What would be great is to at least hear the All Blacks say something along those lines, that they are angry, nasty and want blood.

Namibia is a good place to start. Foster has named Cam Roigard and Damian McKenzie to start, which will be interesting as while it’s unlikely either will unseat Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith, there may well be room for them yet in the top 23.

Samuel Whitelock plays his 148th test, which equals Richie McCaw’s record, as he winds down an All Blacks career that started 13 years ago in New Plymouth, of all places. Whitelock will no doubt break the record by the end of pool play – just reward for an incredible body of work.

Another man who will be pushing for a bit of ball is Leicester Fainga’anuku. So far the Crusaders standout hasn’t exactly had the test career he deserves: two wins, two losses and not a lot of highlights. He gets a start on the left wing and if he can get himself involved as much as Mark Telea has in the last two tests, then we’re going to see him cross the paint a fair few times.

As for Namibia, they’ll at least be looking to replicate the very impressive first 20 minutes they showed when these two sides last met. That was at the last World Cup in Japan, because really the World Cup is the only time the All Blacks and Namibia are even in the same sentence, let alone test match.

Half of the team they’ve named played that day, when the All Blacks eventually won 71-9 and TJ Perenara scored what was voted the World Rugby try of the year.

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