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Soup of This Day #65: Black Humour Made You Kick Your Blues

September 11, 2011

1905 All Blacks
The 1905 All Blacks – Photo: Public Domain. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Friday night the 2011 Rugby World Cup got going in New Zealand. This edition features 20 teams of which realistically only 8 are contenders. Of those 8 there is 1 outright favourite, the hometown New Zealand All Blacks.

The All Blacks draw their name from their uniformly black playing strip. They’re not big on irony in NZ rugby. Actually they don’t seem to be big on irony in any NZ sport. Most of the men’s teams are named for some variation on the All Black theme – The basketballers are the Tall Whites (They are tall and play in white). The football team is the All Whites (They play in white too), which created a minor stir when they played in the 2010 World Cup in post-Apartheid South Africa. If it was anyone else you’d accuse them of a poor sense of ironic humour. Not NZ though. They’re just being practically descriptive. It really is just black and white to them.

1905 All Blacks Jersey
All Blacks’ jersey worn by George Gillett against Wales in December of 1905 – Photo: Frederic Humbert, 2006. Neither Frederic Humbert or www.rugby-pioneers.com has any affiliation with Longworth72.

The All Blacks have been kitted out in black socks, shorts and jerseys since their 1st tour of the British Isles in 1905 (Example jersey above) and are a scary proposition for any other team in this competition. Like the uniform, that’s not new, they’ve been at or near the top for most of the last 25 years. To their national embarrassment though they have just the 1 World Cup to show for it, winning the 1st, also held in NZ, in 1987.

Since then they have… well… choked actually. In 1991 they lost to the Wallabies, Australia’s national team, in the semis, going down 16-6 at Lansdowne Road in Ireland. In 1995 they were favourites, a role they confirmed with a barnstorming demolition of England in the semis, 45-29. Giant winger Jonah Lomu crossed for 4 tries in that game including 1 of the greatest in World Cup history when he demolished the unfortunate Mike Catt on the way to the line. Unfortunately that was the pinnacle for the men in black who went on to lose a memorable final against a South African side newly returned from Apartheid era bans. The game, portrayed in the Matt Damon film, Invictus, was played in Johannesburg in front of an inspiring Nelson Mandela and it went SA’s way with an extra time drop goal. There was some controversy as a number of key All Black players were suffering from food poisoning, contracted on the eve of the big game.

Mostly though NZ didn’t need to have their food tampered with – They do a pretty good job of stuffing up their chances themselves. In 1999 they met a seemingly powderpuff French team in the semis. Leading 24-10 shortly after HT they and their fans were already planning a final against the Wallabies when the French edged back via 2 drop goals and 2 penalties to make it 24-22.

And then the edging became a headlong dive and the All Blacks disintegrated under an onslaught of exuberant Gallic flair. The bantamweight French scored and converted 3 brilliant expansive tries and although the New Zealanders pulled 1 back they were still down 43-31 at the close. It remains 1 of the most extraordinary comebacks in Rugby and indeed world sport and you can and should watch the whole thing here. If you’re from NZ maybe skip that link. It doesn’t end well for you. I remember listening to the game via the radio at the time and the NZ radio commentator seemed to actually be crying by the end.

In 2003 they ran up against the Wallabies in Australia, once more in a semifinal. The Aussies, inspired by a Stirling Mortlock try snared a hard fought 22-10 victory.

In 2007 the All Blacks, pre-tournament favourites yet again, cruised through the group stages, including a 108 -13 stuffing of Portugal in their march onwards. In the knockout stages they again met the French, this time in a quarter-final and once again led Les Bleus, this time by 13-3 at HT. In the 2nd half the French applied the blowtorch and again overran the men from the land of the long white cloud. It finished 20-18 and NZ packed for home before the tournament had really got going.

And now back on home soil NZ’s finest are trying to snap this hoodoo and restore some confidence that they can close 1 out. Their campaign started off in the opening match Friday night against Tonga. Tonga are rough around the edges, but they are tough and as such are potential banana skins for any of the big guns. Not so this time though, NZ comfortably through the opener 41-10. The Wallabies meanwhile got their campaign underway with a 32-6 win over Italy. On a personal note, I am of course a Wallabies supporter – In 2003, when my future wife moved away to Carnarvon I sent her a replica Wallabies jumper to keep her warm and safe. Years previously, my mum and dad got me 1 of my own during the 1991 World Cup. The Wallabies were to win that year but I treasure that jumper for another reason – Mum gifted it to me while she was in hospital fighting cancer – A battle that cost her life 6 months later. So I’m a Wallabies man to the core, yet… This time out I hope the All Blacks don’t choke. That’s a lot of psychological baggage to carry on to 2015.

And somehow choking brings us from Black Jerseys to Red Sox. For the Boston Red Sox are starting to tighten up a little in the windpipe region. They were cruising to the playoffs, edging the Yankees by 1.5 games in the battle for the AL East and all of this was just under 2 weeks ago. Now they are in a hole, only 2.5 games behind the Yankees but just 4.5 clear of 3rd placed Tampa Bay, who they are currently visiting for a 3 game stand. Meanwhile the Angels are moving into wildcard territory over in the AL West and it’s time to get a little concerned. How did this happen?

The Red Sox starters are not playing that well. The bullpen is even worse.

In Game 1 vs the Rays, the Sox started with John Lackey. The Rays started with 5 unanswered runs, which is about par for what I call the ‘Lackey Coefficient’. Lackey then left after 3 when his shin got sconned by a line drive or what I call ‘A Mercy Ball’. The Sox pulled 2 back in the 6th via an Ellsbury RBI single and a Scutaro sac fly, however Atchison gave back 2 right away and the whole affair petered out to a 7-2 loss. The bruised John Lackey took the loss to subside to 12 and 12, an equitable record which goes no way to explaining his god-awful 6.30 ERA.

Game 2 featured the resurrected Kyle Weiland on the mound. Which might seem desperate and probably is. After Lackey’s leg-stop Boston has 1 of it’s starting 5 pitchers from day 1 this season still on deck. Still Kyle is an adequate replacement for Big John, he gave up just 3 across 4 innings and his ERA of 6.75 is ok-ish for the 2011 Sox. In reply the Sox got 1 via a Lowrie grounder in the 2nd and then 2 more via a Gonzalez long shot in the 5th. The Rays then edged 2 off of Aceves to make it 5-3 into the 9th before Salty and Ellsbury tagged solo homers off impressive closer Farnsworth to level it up in the regulation 9. There was no further scoring until the bottom of the 11th when Bard conceded a leadoff triple and then a walkoff RBI single.

Crisis? You bet.

Before each match the All Blacks do a haka. A haka is a ceremonial stomp, a traditional presentation war dance that informs you of how bloody serious the participants are in the job ahead. It generally involves spear throwing gestures, wild eyes, tongues hanging out, threats of violence and occasionally, a throat cutting motion. All of which might sound comedic but it’s not. It’s a pretty effective psych out that for most opposition players is a bowel-loosening prelude to being hammered. They have to face it down, doing so while showing respect, but not fear. Australia likes to respond with a crowd led version of Waltzing Matilda, a song about a vagrant who commits suicide after being caught stealing a sheep. It’s not the same.

Some of the other Pacific Island nations also do hakas or war dance variations thereof. The Tongan Sea Eagles do a Sipi Tau (aka Kailao). They did 1 Friday night against the New Zealanders. An approximate English translation via Wikipedia:

Aye, ay! Aye, ay!
I shall speak to the whole world
The Sea Eagles is famished unfurl.

Let the foreigner and sojourner beware
Today, destroyer of souls, I am everywhere
To the halfback and backs
Gone has my humanness.

Hey! hey! Aye ay! Zap.

Maul and loose forwards shall I mow
And crunch any fierce hearts you know
Ocean I drink, fire I dine
To death or victory my will is fine.

That’s how Tonga dies to her motto
To her motto Tonga gives all.

Now that’s bloody commitment. Get some of that Red Sox.

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