In a fairy tale the All Blacks would win tomorrow morning’s match and claim the Rugby World Cup again.
As Gregor Paul wrote before last week’s semi-final, the ABs are the better men:
. . . Results have been hugely important, but he doesn’t want them to be the sole mechanism by which his team is judged. Nearly as important is the manner in which his team conduct themselves.
Whatever the result tomorrow, the All Blacks won’t rush to leave Twickenham. There is post-match protocol to observe and that is not just the media and drug-testing obligations.
The All Blacks post-match protocol looks just like it did 30 years ago, because Hansen has placed considerable importance on his team embracing what can only be called old-school values.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, the pressure couldn’t be greater but Hansen can’t see why that should prevent rugby tradition from being observed.
The game was fostered on a spirit of fraternity and shared experience and to not observe that is to disrespect a core tenet of the game. The third half, as the French call it, has always been rugby’s greatest point of difference.
If no one bothered to engage with the opposition; to put aside the past 80 minutes and realise that everyone involved is chasing the same dream and united by the same beliefs, how long before rugby would morph into football in regard to culture and attitudes?
How long before players would leave the ground with barely a nod and a handshake, jump into expensive sports cars, already having forgotten who they have played and still not certain they know the first name of all the players in their own team?
Hansen has made a stand to preserve the parts of rugby that make it the game it is. “One of the important things to me about rugby is enjoying it,” he says. “When you are in such a big pressure cooker as the All Blacks, it can easily be lost.
“The first thing we had to acknowledge was to stop and enjoy each test. We do that sensibly but we acknowledge we have played another group of men who have tried to do what we have done. So we say, ‘would you guys like to come in? [to our changing room]’.
“Not all teams accept that. Some do and South Africa are one that always comes in. When we are over there we go in. When I played, some of the best moments in rugby were with the guys who you have just gone 80 minutes with and you find out they are just like us. They are ordinary guys and you make lifelong friendships.”
The extent to how the old-school culture pervades has been striking at this World Cup. The All Blacks, tournament favourites and loaded with superstars, have been impeccably professional on the field, proudly amateur in ethos off it. . . .
For the last part of the past decade things were worse because the All Blacks’ schedule was dominated by tests against the Wallabies.
The relationship between the two was strained, awkward and, at times, plain awful. The Wallabies rejected an invitation to join the All Blacks in their changing room after a 2010 test in Christchurch. A few months later in Hong Kong they accepted – after they had won in the last minute and had aggressively and endlessly celebrated. The invitation hadn’t been accepted so they could genuinely reflect on the test but seemed to be more about taking the opportunity to gloat. It was a powerful moment – confirming for Hansen that if he ever landed the top job, he would instil in his players the courage and depth of character to be the same person regardless of outcome.
“When you play really well and get beaten you have to accept it,” he says. “You can’t change it – it has happened, you have had your chance and you have to do that with the same humbleness that you do winning. We have got to respect the way we want to be respected ourselves and there is nothing worse than seeing a winner gloating or a team that loses sulking.
“It is okay to hurt but you don’t have to be arrogant and I think rugby is a great game in teaching you some core values of being grateful and being humble.
“I don’t think it is driven by being liked. It is driven by that’s how we want to live. That’s the identity we believe the legacy of the All Blacks has demanded from us. It is really important to us that we live that way – that identity and those values all the time.” . .
Both teams have so much to play for but the All Blacks have the added incentive of giving captain Richie McCaw a win and several others a win in what is expected to be their final game in the team.
Life isn’t always like a fairy tale but all fingers and toes are crossed that tomorrow’s match will finish that way for the All Blacks.