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Soup of This Day #89: You Test My Nerves It Makes Me Stronger

October 26, 2011

Bruegel's Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus
Pieter Bruegel’s wonderful c1558 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, or possibly a contemporary copy. You can just see Icarus’ legs poking out of the sea at right – Image: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, c1560. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have no affiliation with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

When I was a kid we had a snakes and ladders board game. It was a Disney themed 1 with Mickey, Donald, Pluto, etc. and it was a touch heavy on the moral side of things. That is to say, each snake came with a warning about the type of behaviour that might lead to a metaphorical slide down a reptile. For instance the big snake, the 1 that nailed you a few steps from the end and deposited you back near the start, had the message that pride cometh before the fall. Presumably this would teach errant kiddies, who’d gotten a little too cocksure down the home stretch, that it ain’t over till Mickey and the gang say it is.

New Zealand just dodged that snake.

Aotearoa is a little rugby obsessed. While next-door Australia features a number of competing sporting codes, New Zealand has 1 clear standout winner when it comes to the hearts and minds of the populace. Rugby is played in every school and park and it shows – In the history of Test rugby (Around 108 years) the All Blacks have a winning percentage of 75%. Think about that for a bit – For over a century they have won 3 out of every 4 matches they have played. And they have played more than a few matches, 484 of them in fact (winning 364). In doing so they have scored 12,563 points to 6,128 and only 5 other nations can lay claim to having beaten them. Ireland, no pushovers in the game have never beaten New Zealand. They shouldn’t feel too lonely – No nation has a winning record against the All Blacks.

This includes England, the nation that begat rugby. The game originated at a school called Rugby, thoughtfully located in a town called Rugby, situated in the English Midlands. England subsequently played in the 1st rugby international Test in 1871, foolishly choosing to play away to the Scots in Edinburgh. The Scots duly won 2 tries (1 converted) to 1.

They’re canny, those Scots.

A full 32 years later, in 1903, New Zealand played it’s 1st international Test against Australia. It will come as a complete shock to everyone that the New Zealanders won that 22-6.

Having beaten up on their larger neighbours the Trans-Tasman minnows headed off on a 1905 tour of the Home Nations (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) with assorted provincial sides plus France thrown in for good measure. This tour marked a new ‘all black’ playing strip (And subsequent nickname) for the New Zealanders and to celebrate they won 34 out of 35 matches, including a win against the English. They did lose, controversially as it happened, to Wales but rounded off the trip by belting British Columbia in San Francisco and Berkeley.

Presumably the games were played in California instead of Vancouver so as to avoid riots.

In 1924 the All Blacks toured the United Kingdom once more and this time did not lose a single match, earning the sobriquet, The Invincibles. Technically they didn’t beat everyone as the Scots refused to play them over a payment dispute.

Canny work there again from the Scots.

In 1963 the Scots again denied the All Blacks a clean sweep, this time via a scoreless draw and in 1963 the New Zealanders were denied by a foot-and-mouth scare that meant they couldn’t play Ireland. Which was lucky for the Irish Rugby team, if not the Irish livestock industry, because it was amidst the wider scope of a then world record 17 game winning streak for the All Blacks. That record was tied in 1997/98 by the South Africans and then eclipsed in 2010 by the Lithuanians.

Yeah, I said Lithuanians.

From Lithuania.

Who play in the European Nations 3rd Division. Where they won 18 straight games before missing out on Rugby World Cup 2011 qualification via a loss to the Ukrainians. For the record the Ukrainians then got bumped off by the Romanians, who then went on to lose every 1 of their World Cup 2011 pool matches. The Romanians came close to edging Scotland but in the end succumbed 24-34.

Those Scots really are quite canny.

And this is where we get to the snakes that beset the All Blacks. No, not the canny Scots, who for all of their canniness have lost 26 times to the New Zealanders, winning not once. No the problem for the All Blacks is that for all of their dominance they have kind of sucked when it’s come to the World Cup.

Sure, they won the 1st in 1987, beating France in New Zealand, but since then they have choked. Like a choking thing that has out-choked the choking-est choke that ever… well… choked.

Meanwhile South Africa and Australia have won 2 World Cups apiece. And this is despite the Australians having a 41 to 97 win-loss record against the clearly better All Blacks. Even England have won a World Cup to at least have 1 on the board. All of which has mystified and dismayed New Zealand, it’s 4 million inhabitants left to wonder each 4 years at how they could possible screw it up this time.

2011 though needed to be different. It wasn’t just that the World Cup tournament had come back to New Zealand, there were other factors in play too – In November of last year 29 miners were killed in the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster on the West Coast of South Island. That hurt the small nation enough but worse was to come – In February of this year Christchurch was devastated by an earthquake that killed 181 and left a large number of structures in ruins or unusable. 1 of those structures was Lancaster Park, the home stadium of the Super 14 Rugby team, the Canterbury Crusaders. The Crusaders have won 7 of 16 Super Rugby titles, dominating arguably the world’s toughest Rugby competition. They have finished runner-up on 3 other occasions including in 2011.

And they did that playing every game on the road, for Lancaster Park is still not fit for use, meaning that it has not hosted Super Rugby and nor was it able to host World Cup 2011 matches as planned.

They breed them tough in Canterbury.

Flash forward now to the final of the 2011 World Cup and like the 1st 1 it featured the home side against the French. This omen plus the part where they’d won every game, including a 37-17 mauling of Les Bleus in the pool stages, led some pundits to suggest pre-match that it was manifest destiny that New Zealand could, nay, would, win.

Hubris therefore was not really on the menu as the French attempted to stare down the New Zealander’s typically charged haka. Icarus had strapped on his wings over his All Black jersey and was cruising above Auckland harbour wondering just what that waxy substance was that dripped off of his arms under the harsh spotlights.

Early on he looked like he’d soar unencumbered as the All Blacks scored a try in the 15th minute. Then Piri Weepu lost his lucky kicking boots and his previously unerring accuracy went haywire – He missed the subsequent conversion attempt and then 2 very gettable penalties. Nerves began to fray and with the score a tight 5-0 at halftime the unthinkable was contemplated.

A penalty after the restart lifted the score to 8-0 but no sooner had the nation began to pat themselves on the pack than France hit back with a converted try to make it 8-7.

There followed a gritty tug of war. The French missed a gettable penalty attempt that would have given them the edge and in the end the All Blacks scraped home by their fingernails and a solitary point.

You can’t say anything except they deserved the win. Finally.

And now New Zealand has 2 World Cups, surpassing the 1 earned by the inventors of the game, England.

England invented cricket too and last night playing India in a One Day International (ODI), they were cruising at 0 for 129, chasing 272 for the win when they collapsed, losing all 10 wickets for a paltry 47 runs. Quote of the week goes to their captain Alistair Cook who kept a straight face post match while explaining:

‘We seemed to lose wickets in clusters and we lost about ten of them here.’

It’s a refrain that the Cards could use down in Texas where they have let slip a 2-1 World Series grip as Texas has twice stifled them offensively in Ranger Park to take a 3-2 lead back to St Louis.

The stats will tell you it was down to some awesome pitching from Holland in Game 4 (Just 2 hits in a 8.1 innings shut-out) and some stirring relief work in Game 5. I however have another theory – Zooey Deschanel sung The Star Spangled Banner for Game 4 of the World Series. She sung it simply, powerfully and crucially she didn’t choke, remembering all of the words. It was a nice moment, without hubris.

Bet she could stare down a haka too.

You Test My Nerves It Makes Me Stronger

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