By Mark Freemon
Sure, I admit it. There is no shame in telling the truth on this one. And if the other true believers out there are honest and admit with me, there will be many others who now can now speak these words, “I went to bed last Sunday night thinking about Dan Carter’s groin”. Unfortunately, as mine was a particularly laboured sleep, I woke on Monday morning, like several thousand other blokes, thinking about that same said Cantabrian’s nether regions.
Surely Shirley, this is all one big joke! I’m thinking on Monday and Tuesday that this is one, overly wrought and well marketed IRB ploy to inject some high drama into what’s been an All Black campaign that threatens to set lofty benchmarks for all World Cups that follow.
I’d convinced myself, in a bid to bring us all back down to Earth, a New York spin agency had rudely concocted this ruse to keep us all guessing over what’s around the next World Cup corner. After all an organization like the IRB, who easily rivals the Bush Administration’s “holier than thou” posture, couldn’t have one of its competitors getting too far ahead of themselves and attempting to write their own ending to what often feels like an IRB “scripted” tournament.
However, Tuesday soon evaporated and Wednesday’s new reports still confirmed what I refused to previously acknowledge - “Dan Carter’s 2011 World Cup is over!”
If there is a Rugby God in this land, nay in this World, I need answers to so many questions. It’s the eve of the 2011 World Cup Rugby quarterfinals. Time is running out so somebody better start talking fast.
All is NOT right on these small rocks of ours. First off we have a large, cargo vessel hard aground on a small reef off the Tauranga coast. Dirty weather is forecast for Monday. While Rome burns and the weather window closes, the experts are fiddling in Wellington. Our environmental minister, already, has said the situation on the reef will get worse before getting better. When government types get this candid, it is real bad and quickly heading towards a Clint Eastwood-like ending. Worst case scenario – next week she gets pounded by the sea, begins to break up, spills 1700 tons of fuel oil into the sea (and this doesn’t even take into account the contents of the many containers on her decks and in her holds) and we lose to Argentina.
All this occurs along a seriously pristine stretch of New Zealand coastline of a rugby mad republic. If either of these two situations come to pass, we better hand out the band aids and aspirins now, because there’s going be a fight.
My gut twists and that feeling I had when Pike River Mine exploded is once again washing across my sub conscious. Breath deep Mark. Breath slow Mark.
Okay, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But, I’m here to tell you that we’ve arrived at the knock out stage of this tournament and I’m feeling a wee bit queasy.
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen failure happen on three other occasions. Each of those times, I believed we’d prepared well, had the best team in the tournament, competed well enough and then painfully watched the unexpected unfold.
And so again, here we sit…
Sure I feel somewhat forlorn because all those other national guests have gone home. Once there were twenty nations involved and now only eight are left in country and standing. But if I truly admit it, I still hurt for Dan Carter.
I have never really warmed to Canterbury but do respect what they’ve established down South. They continue to achieve season after season with a solid brand of rugby. They defend staunchly and attack relentlessly. They have become something of a national factory and their fans are firm believers in their cause – hence the Crusaders label. They have at times felt like the Man U of New Zealand rugby and Dan Carter has been a key ingredient to that ongoing success. After all that’s said, done and written about this storied number 10, we’d much rather have him on our team than be forced to play against him.
Since the NZRFU came forward about his injury I’ve gone all nostalgic about Carter. Let’s face it, their admission about the injury basically means this era of Dan Carter highlight reels may have come to an abrupt, if not premature, end.
And so I went looking. I went looking for proof that my fading memory was not just that: a fading memory. I recall in mind the 2005 winter tour of New Zealand of the British and Irish Lions.
Clive Woodard and Co. arrived in country with one of the largest media driven, hype machines that our backwater has ever had the unfortunate experience of enduring. Before a single player had been dropped in anger, Clive promised and compared and compared and promised until the cows came home.
This was the best prepared Lions team ever. This, possibly, was even the best Lions team ever. Oh yes and for good measure Sir Clive did mention on several choice occasion to remind this peasant nation that without a doubt, his team would do this and that to our lads and that we, unless we are seriously demented, might really consider keeping our darling boys at home on the three nights in question where the unfortunate New Zealanders had been bracketed to play God’s gifts to rugby.
Well Sir Clive, had I been gifted this blog back in 2005, the response I would’ve written might read like this: “Dear Clive it is with utmost respect that I respond to your gin induced babble and attempt, is my colonial manner, to answer smartly your concerns.
You’re damn right we’re demented! Haven’t you ever watched the Hakka me boyo?! We live on two weather beaten bits of rock, pock marked with volcanic craters and criss-crossed by seismic fault lines. In this environment, a little bit of demented goes a long way towards carving out a success story in this rugged, southern Pacific locale. So we will be more than happy to send our men out to meet your team on the aforementioned dates in question and intend to pay back- with interest - any prior verbal barbs you may have cast in our general direction.”
Now I love the tradition and history of the Lions. England and Wales are still, to this day, two of my favorite places. I’ve drunk enough Guinness to be half Irish and am married to Helen McClean so should be sweet with the Scots as well. I don’t apologize for Clive and like I said, I respect the Lions’ ethos. In its purest form and intention, the British and Irish Lions come close to pursuing and promoting the same greatness, albeit through the combined strength of four nations, that the All Blacks demand.
Unfortunately, after a week of off field posturing from Sir Clive, the whole buildup felt like a handbag fight between two old dames at a London bus stop. In the end, the All Blacks walked the tour three games to nil’ and knocked some pretty big holes into the modern Lions’ aura.
That was a very special team for the All Blacks and Dan Carter was a key component to that series victory. Clive obviously hadn’t done his homework very well because we actually trained for this event and ambushed these commonwealth types in what turned out to be, for them, a series of train wrecks up and down this country.
Dan effortlessly glided and guided the team across the parks in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. He was at the height of his powers and could command and control a game like a gifted composer might lead an equally talented orchestra. There exists miles of footage of Carter working his magic across so many of the World’s ruby parks. Beautiful stuff! However, there’s this footage of game two, in Wellington, that’s classic DC.
The Lions are leading us @ the 17:20 mark of the contest. There’s a lineout near the All Black 22 metre mark and the guests look for an attacking option off their throw.
They secure possession from the throw in and the ball goes through two or three sets of Lions’ hands. Aaron Mager fronts their runner and affects a turnover. Umaga ends up with the ball and mounts a counterattack. Meanwhile, a train of black jerseys forms around the captain and steams up field at an urgent rate. Umaga slips a pass to Dan Carter who then shakes several tackles near the halfway line, increases speed and glides, as if his spiked boots never touched the turf, like a ghost through a series of hapless attempts to slow or stop the rolling avalanche. As they near the Lions’ five metre mark, Carter flicks the ball back to Umaga, who is finally dropped to the turf, and Umaga scores a beautiful counterattacking try against the vaunted Lions.
The whole move took just over fifteen seconds, is classic All Blacks and is classic Carter!
I attempt, through this memory, to display what Carter brought to this program. That was him on song and in stride and luckily is saved for posterity on You Tube. It didn’t just stop there and should not have stopped now. Not in this way. Not in this tournament and not after what the young man has given to this team.
But these unfortunate injuries happen and this is sport and we MUST move on. We have moved on. The All Blacks have named Colin Slade as the starting number 10 for the weekend match versus the Pumas and that’s that. We don’t close the book, merely turn the page.
As a sidebar, Richie McCaw’s foot isn’t right and yet he’s going to lead us out onto Eden Park on Sunday night. Jeff Moore used to say, “Play with pain but never with an injury”. McCaw is a rare breed, and though his star too is on the wane, we trust body, foot and head, can last three more matches. Certainly, McCaw has given everything to this cause as well and deserves this final chance to slay a few of his own rugby dragons. If anyone can endure the hurt, it’s McCaw. Hate to say it; our Richie makes Chuck Norris look like a librarian. And I am a huge Chuck Norris fan!
On Sunday, they’ll patch him up, wrap him up, drug him up and send him out into the maelstrom with little more than a hearty pat on the back and a “get out there and do it to them before they do it to you”. Seems to be the All Black way and is the only way that McCaw knows how. He too realizes the days on his career calendar are numbered and wants to make the most of what’s left. Instead of resting, inviting more rust and potentially becoming a passenger for the tournament’s remaining games; he will lead the team at Eden Park. That’s what captains do. That’s what Richie’s done for ten years now.
An so here I sit on Friday night, worn out from a week of handling and cutting steel. Tired and questioning from another week of juggling life, writing, work, lacrosse and the ultimate build up to the training for and running of Agriculture Day at my children’s primary school.
As a result of our willingness to face all tasks and challenges head on, I realize and I solemnly state with unbridled conviction these truths. New Zealanders are a decent lot and we have collectively ensured our team engaged in no dwarf throwing. We can assure any of their critics and all their adoring fans, the All Blacks have upheld the martial traditions of this game and virtually snotted all those unfortunate sods who stood before them with ball in hand. They have saved the real serious snotting for the French – “remember the Rainbow Warrior” our war cry – and, if luck should lead him our way, Quade Cooper.
Additionally we promise the All Blacks wore and swore by ONLY the IRB sanctioned mouth guards – gum shields to any English readers. They, on oath, all admit to passing, punting, rucking, mauling, kicking and training with the IRB supplied Gilbert balls and have reported to the IRB Gestapo any and all teams who did not.
Even though the nation refused to abstain from nocturnal “training” our men in Black have sworn off alcohol for the tournament’s duration and can, to the man, provide evidence that all naughty liaisons were with actual partners or wives. No players here, not even “big bird” Ali Williams, have hung with the ignorantly unlucky Mike Tindall. And, to date, there’s no footage of any of our lads at the now infamous Cowboy Bar in Queenstown.
Enough said…Go the mighty All Blacks. We’re gonna miss ya Dan!
More from Mark Freemon in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.