Enduring The Black Parade

As our more regular readers might be uninterested to know, I’m currently in Edinburgh, and in approximately seven hours will be walking in to Parkhead in Glasgow to watch the Old Firm game. It’s going to be the most amazing live sporting occasion of my life, I reckon, and if I don’t get stabbed you can read about it here on Monday or Tuesday. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

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I flew into the UK thanks to the good people at Air New Zealand, and alongside some inspired TV choices (Peep Show Season 5, damn!) they had a sports channel, the third program of which was the first Tri-Nations game ever, and there can never have been a more perfect example of rugby’s past and future colliding and fusing in one simply enthralling game of rugby union.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxmoImpQrG8%5D

That’s the  local feed, with Keith Quinn and Grant Fox calling it (free-to-air rugby? How we’ve grown…), but Air NZ’s version was the Australian commentary, pretty well-handled it must be said, though given that they were dealing with what looks to my eyes like the best All Black team to walk out in my lifetime – and the most immaculate performance the team ever put together – then I guess that’s understandable. But seriously, find fault with this XV:1. Olo Brown
2. Sean Fitzpatrick
3. Craig Dowd
4. Ian Jones
5. Robin Brooke
6. Michael Jones
7. Josh Kronfeld
8. Zinzan Brooke
9. Justin Marshall
10. Andrew Mehrtens
11. Jonah Lomu
12. Walter Little
13. Frank Bunce
14. Jeff Wilson
15. Christian Cullen

The game was played in some of the most appalling conditions you could ever hope to see, with Athletic Park a bog, great chunks of turf hacked up and every player coated in thick layer of claylike mud. Even the referee is filthy by the end, and the All Blacks bought in hardest to the gladiatorial atmosphere, scrapping hard for every loose ball with both Lomu and Kronfeld taking it when they had no right to on the way to tries.

The Australian coverage seemed beamed in from another galaxy, with no onscreen score or time displayed, and the commentators only occasionally providing it, though it quickly became irrelevant as that monumental All Black team poured on six tries to Michael Jones, Cullen, Marshall (who was simply outstanding, strange to think what a controversial selection he would become), man-of-the-match Zinzan Brooke, Jeff Wilson and finally, emphatically, that freak of nature Jonah Lomu.

But aside from the sheer head-spinning joy of seeing all those stars in the form of their lives and playing as if acutely aware that history would hold this game forever, it’s the quality which astounds. We’re used to seeing wet weather games riddled with errors, reverting to tactical duels, who-blinks-first situations, wins ground out of the most dour circumstances imaginable.

This game, with the wind whipping rain horizontal, was just terrifying in the skill and precision of the execution. Handling errors are minimal, tackles ferocious and the rucking – Jesus Christ the rucking is just brutal. It’s a very different game to that which you all will have witnessed this weekend, and it’s hard to argue that it’s been improved much in the intervening years, particularly when you watch a game like this.

A few disjointed thoughts:

– Mehrtens missed his first three kicks at goal, sometimes not even crossing the tryline the wind we were playing into was so fierce. Somehow, though, the All Blacks lead 31-6 at half-time.
– We were a pretty dirty team back then. Fitzpatrick in particular just got things done, and you can see how different rugby would have been in the era of three or four cameras covering a game to the current saturation coverage.
– Matt Burke looks like a dodgy extra from Menswe@r or Echobelly, a slightly paunchy Britpopper with a ridiculous fringe. He plays pretty well but.
– What the hell is with those massive bloody in-goals? There’s almost room for a whole extra field. Just bizarre. And the stands at Athletic park are amazingly rubbish. God-foresaken rugby venue. Maybe that helped in this instance.
– Campese plays like an absolute pussy, and is the sole exception to what I said earlier about everyone being covered in mud. Looks workshy as hell, particularly around Lomu, and clearly playing beyond his usefulness.
– No substitutions! You just play the Goddamn game, son. Fitzpatrick does come off, but the commentators note that’s the first time he EVER did as an All Black. Lucky we’ve learnt how dumb it is for the same guys to play together for the whole game, right? Phew.
– Burke’s not the only guy commiting hair crime:

image095Jeff Wilson’s rocking what looks suspiciously like an undercut. And OK, I’ve had some undercuts in my time, but the last one would’ve been in ’93, when I was 13, and didn’t know any better. Wilson’s excuse?
– Even with the game gone we never once throttle back, and you begin to feel sorry for Australia, who just look lost out there. Kronfeld and Zinzan Brooke in particular are just merciless, and playing with total impunity. In Zinzan we had a forward with the vision and skills of a back, and Lomu a back with the build and bulk of a forward. put those two together and you’re gonna win games.
– The only sustained Wallabies attack comes for a seven minute period around the break, and the All Blacks almost treat it like a drill, savaging the Wallabies, who are well and truly broken by the time they finally turn the ball over.

It’s just the best game of rugby, played by the best team, I’ve ever seen. I know that it’s right there in the pantheon of fine All Black victories and all that, but you watch it and it’s just hard not to feel pretty sad about the end of that Warrior era, about players just dying for their (Canterbury of New Zealand on both sides – so mean) jersey. The current squad has maybe five players who can breathe the same air as these guys, and none would be a certainty to start (seriously). But I’m not here to complain, just to point out that a little under thirteen years ago a game of rugby was played. It was real, and it was spectacular.

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– Duncan

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4 Comments

Filed under Reminiscing, Rugby

4 responses to “Enduring The Black Parade

  1. without doubt the most complete performance i’ve ever seen.
    not sure why, but i always remember that moment at about 2.14 to 2.18 of that video where lomu cleanly wins the 50/50 ball from ben tune.
    also, you could probably fit 3 UK superleague in-goals into that athletic park one.

  2. The thing that strikes me about this team, and game, is the absolute lack of hesitation from any of the players out there. Zinzan makes a huge skip pass from the back of the ruck, purely based on intuition and instinct. A split second decision. Normally, that kind of pass is made out of desperation, here its born out of creativity and complete comfort and confidence in his teammates. Actually, all the trys in that clip display impeccable decision making, based on some kind of otherworldly understanding of teammates.

    Seems like the current All Blacks just don’t have that freedom to make quick decisions or something. They lack decisiveness. Or is this just me getting old and wishing for the good old days?

  3. So who are the five members of the current squad that “can breathe the same air as these guys”? Well I’m thinking McCaw and Carter would at least make the bench, with Woodcock, Williams, and Muliaina being in the squad.
    Brad Thorn’s style of play would have suited this great team but I can’t see him replacing Brooke or Jones.
    The same appplies to Rokococo good, but choose him ahead of Wilson or Lomu?
    I don’t think so.
    Lastly Mehrtens also had a fairly good undercut around about this time.

  4. Duncan

    @richard: Yeah it’s like they were aliens. I can’t recall any other performance from any other team in history as crushingly perfect as that one.
    @David: I think it’s a combination of the new team being less empowered to make decisions and them just not being possessed of the same intellect or character. Though personally I feel like the PR training ruins them all. You know how shitty all theiur interviews are because they’re taught to couch every word in a certain way? I feel like that ends up subsuming their entire personality and has them doubting every move they ever make. Just a theory, but y’know…
    @ Al: Those are the guys I had picked, I did wonder about Thorn because he’s just such an old-fashioned brute of a player, but with every one of those guys it’s like how do you drop them? I mean, we all talk about McCaw as the Greatest of all Time, and maybe he is, but Michael Jones? Or shuffling Zinzan or Kronfeld around to make room for him? I just can’t see how it would work. And you’re right about Mehrtens, I don’t know if this game is the best example, but there was something deeply troubled about South Island rugby men at the time, no doubt.

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