“We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” – J.R.R. Tolkien.
What Tolkien is talking about is that absolute truth that we all long for a chance to write the wrongs of mistakes past. Only a fool lives without regrets, the discipline is to learn with them knowing that nothing is perfect in this rugby life.
It is the perpetual pursuit of perfection that drives all of us knowing we will fall short, but perhaps our effort is somewhat closer to ‘perfect’ than the other guys and in that effort, we may obtain victory and victories gifts of absolution and redemption from previous transgressions.
Both the All Blacks and the Wallabies will be seeking such redemption in the second and final instalment of the 2019 Bledisloe Cup this Saturday at the fortress of New Zealand rugby – Eden Park in Auckland, a venue the hosts have not lost a test at since 1994.
For New Zealand, the question of redemption is a plain and obvious one. Whilst the All Blacks’ greatest and most traditional rivals are the Springboks, the most enjoyable scalp to take for New Zealanders is that of the Wallabies.
Beating the Wallabies over the past 17 years has been like a permanent fixture a Kiwi can put in their diary. Like Aunty Dot’s birthday or the boys fishing trip away in September. It’s a given and you could just about set your clock by it.
But national pride was dented by the Wallabies in Perth last weekend. The All Blacks were not just beaten, they were flogged like a convict on his way to Botany Bay. The All Blacks must redeem themselves from such a lacklustre performance not befitting of the national expectation of those who wear the black jersey with the silver fern on the left breast.
New Zealand is embarrassed by the All Blacks performance as they don’t really rate Australia as a rugby nation as much as they may say it to be polite. Nor do they rate our coach Michael Cheika, full-stop.
This, coupled with such a limp performance days after the funeral of the great All Black Sir Brian Lochore, leaves the average New Zealander seething. Many a chilli-bin has been kicked in frustration since the final whistle on Saturday evening.
New Zealand needs the All Blacks to win this weekend to salvage their national psyche that has been affronted by the dominant runs of Allan Alaalatoa, the speed of Marika Koroibete, the grit and determination of Michael Hooper, and just about any word that has come out of Cheika’s mouth.
Deep down, New Zealanders overcome their ‘Little Brother’ insecurities and complex by wiping Australia all over the floor in the great game of rugby.
Yet this is all in jeopardy and even more. You see, if the Wallabies actually do the unthinkable and defeat New Zealand at Eden Park this weekend, it is the end of much for New Zealand rugby.
Obviously, the Wallabies win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002. It will also mark the first defeat at Eden Park since 1994 after a dramatic loss to a wonderful French side. Fortress Eden Park will simply become, Eden Park – home of Auckland and the Blues.
As the late Australian dual international and broadcaster Rex Mossop would say – ‘Big Deal’.
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Furthermore, it will be the first time the All Blacks have lost back-to-back tests since 2011, when they were defeated by South Africa in Port Elizabeth and then by the Wallabies in Brisbane a week later.
All this on the eve of Rugby World Cup 2019. These are not the types of records All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wants to be broken.
A loss would confirm that another golden age of New Zealand rugby, arguably their best, is potentially over. All at the hands of a ‘Clown Coach’ and his merry bunch of ‘Okkers’. The pain would be insufferable for them.
This is what is on the line for New Zealanders this weekend.
But why, some may ask, would the Wallabies be seeking redemption after they inflicted a 47-26 defeat of the world champion All Blacks at Optus Stadium on Saturday evening?
The Wallabies were superb last weekend, but they must redeem for so much more in the past. It is not a burden they chose to carry, but one that is required. The Wallabies are in a near ‘Christ-like’ situation. Victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park may indeed take a miracle of sorts, but what healing a victory over the All Backs could bring to the game back here in Australia.
A win for these Wallabies would not only redeem the pathetic losses this side has experienced, but it would unite the entire Australian rugby community, and for a time we can put our differences over Israel Folau to one side; we can put our differences over the governance of the game to one side; we can simply come together in a moment of pure elation that we once again can be proud of that green and gold jersey and those who are wearing it on the park in Auckland that day.
But it goes deeper than that.
It would not matter if you were a ‘toff’ from Mosman quaffing on Penfolds Grange, a ‘tradie’ from Caboolture knocking back a XXXX heavy or a ‘jackaroo’ from Jandowae gulping on a ‘Black Rat’ – all Australians would be off their feet with booze spilling from wine glasses, stubbies and cans alike knowing that the shame and pain is over, as some of our performances against New Zealand since 2002 have simply been that. Shameful and painful to endure.
There are Wallabies – great Wallabies – who never won a Bledisloe series or won a test at Eden Park.
The great Ken Catchpole, John Thornett, Peter Johnson, Phil Hawthorne, Mark Loane, Paul McLean, Tim Horan, Jason Little, Tim Gavin, Ofahengaue, Stephen Moore, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Joe Roff, Ben Tune, Owen Finnegan, and even the great George Smith never won a test at Eden Park.
A victory this weekend is not only a victory for the current Wallabies, but also for Wallabies of yesteryear.
Such a win will soothe the pain for the grassroots rugby person in Australia. For those who have saved their hard-earned and flown to places like Dunedin and Dublin to cheer on the Wallabies only to be let down time-and-time again.
It’s the small people, dare I say the forgotten people, of Australian rugby that not only need this win, they deserve this win for every sausage they have turned; For every jersey they have washed and for every child they have taught to pass to keep this game afloat in dark times.
These people have been the torchbearers of Australian rugby.
For the Peach’s of the Blue Giants; the Kate’s, Tully’s and Grammy’s of the Taylor Bridge Bull Sharks; for the ‘Beaker’s’ of the Maitland Blacks and the ‘Wombat’s’, Paul’s and Tom’s of the Byron Bay Rangers. For all the Jimmy’s, Dougo’s and ‘Aussie’ Bob’s who have held up countless third-grade scrums on a dusty patch at Rugby Park ‘somewhere’ and then the front bar of the local watering hole for even longer in the third half.
This match, this much-needed win, is about them and people like them just as much as it is about Cheika and his playing group.
A win will heal and redeem the Australian game. It will be as rain is for our drought-stricken farmers – life-giving and lifesaving.
Whatever the outcome at the final whistle, I hope the game has turned a corner my country. It was a great feeling waking up last Sunday morning knowing the Wallabies had won. I later went the famous Ballymore ground for the Brisbane club finals and bumped into a mate who summed it up perfectly: “Isn’t it funny how all seems right with the world when the Wallabies win?”
To my Kiwi mates and New Zealanders all, don’t fret if you do lose. Aunty Dot will actually turn 67 this year and the trout will be in the river regardless. But one thing I hope is that we see the return of the great test matches regularly where seconds and inches of heart skill and desire decide the fate of the game.
And regardless of who wins, when it is all over, we’ll always be mates as redemption can’t exist without it.
“Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.” – Vera Nazarian.
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