PPower plays and player power appear to be at the heart of the dispute threatening to tear Australian and New Zealand rugby apart after trans-Tasman relations fell to an all-time high when a decision was made for the All Blacks to did not play the Wallabies in Perth as planned on Saturday night.
Australian anger is palpable. The game was a dead rubber Bledisloe Cup, but it was also a rugby championship game. The reason given by NZ Rugby for the All Blacks not to board their flight to Perth was uncertainty over the rugby championship schedule and how long players would be away from home.
Perhaps that was a legitimate concern, but it was the way it was communicated – or not – that brought relations between Australia and New Zealand at the breaking point. It was no way to treat a partner, much less a friend. In recent years, New Zealand has managed to alienate its rugby partners. Last year, the Kiwis put Australia and South Africa offside with their tough line negotiating Super Rugby roster.
It was as if New Zealand was trying to show that it was more powerful than its partners and that it would do what was in New Zealand’s best interest without regard to anyone else. This attitude comes from being the best in the world – a “you need us more than we need you” mentality.
It’s not just the New Zealand rugby administration that seems to think this way. In professional sport, players deserve a voice, but the All Blacks do indeed have a very strong voice. The decision not to send a squad to Perth shouldn’t have been too surprising given that a similar situation almost happened last year when the All Blacks managed to get the rugby championship draw readjusted. in 2020 to make sure they return home to spend Christmas with their families.
Now the All Blacks have jeopardized Bledisloe’s third test and the rugby championship because the players didn’t want to spend too much time away from home. This is understandable given the uncertainty surrounding the lockdowns and quarantine of Covid-19, but the Wallabies have already made sacrifices to ensure the continuity of the Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies have effectively been away from home since late June and have changed their own travel plans to ensure back-to-back testing at Eden Park in Auckland has been played. New Zealand’s NRL team, the Warriors, have been virtually camping in Australia for the past two years. But it looks like the All Blacks aren’t willing to stand up for themselves for anyone.
It would be a brave soul to suggest that the All Blacks jersey doesn’t mean everything to New Zealand players, but in this modern, commercialized game does it mean as much as it once did?
The Original All Blacks toured Britain, France and North America in 1905-06. They left for England aboard the Rimutaka on July 30 and returned from San Francisco the following January, six months from home. The “Originals” set the benchmark for all future All Blacks teams. It is a heritage that has been passed down from one generation of New Zealanders to the next.
After winning two consecutive World Cups in 2011 and 2015, the All Blacks have placed themselves above all rugby nations on the planet. But they are no longer the No. 1 team in the world, even though they have the most marketable brand. They hit the Wallabies every year, but the current generation didn’t beat the British and Irish Lions in 2017 and didn’t win the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
After beating the Wallabies for the 19th consecutive year in the Bledisloe Cup series, the All Blacks were expected to challenge South Africa in the rugby championship. The Springboks are the reigning world champions and recently beat the Lions 2-1. They are the No.1 team in the world and their game against the All Blacks is the game the rugby world has been waiting for. But now that may not happen, at least not this year.
New Zealand is a big rugby nation, arguably the biggest, but it’s a small country, which has saturated its own market. In difficult times, old friends are good friends. Australia and New Zealand will undoubtedly mend their broken relationship, if only because the two countries are mutually dependent on each other, but it will take time to regain confidence.
Australians have complained about New Zealand’s lack of respect in this current mess, but ultimately there is only one way Australia can enforce respect for the Kiwis – on and on. off the field – and that’s for the Wallabies to start beating the All Blacks again.