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I can't believe that this is what rugby in New Zealand has come to

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

I can’t believe that this is what rugby in New Zealand has come to.


Actually, that’s a lie.

Mils Muliaina’s comment that it would be acceptable for the All Blacks to lose to Scotland, on their upcoming tour, is the sadly inevitable conclusion of years of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) arrogance and neglect.

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Results don’t matter anymore. Frankly they haven’t for years.

If they did, then Ian Foster would’ve been sacked as All Blacks coach a long time ago.

No, the NZR board have made it abundantly clear that excellence is no longer the expectation for our national side and that there are no consequences for losing.

They’re just happy to muddle along, beating bad teams more often than not and having our pants pulled down by the good ones.


But that’s them. That’s an NZR board hardly overflowing with rugby expertise.

They all mean well, but they don’t have any real skin in the game.

Muliaina does. He’s one of those guys that dug the well, who created the aura of invincibility that NZR and the current All Blacks still trade off.

Muliaina played in some average All Blacks teams earlier in his career. He felt the pain of failure.


But now he reckons that’s okay. That losing, for developmental purposes, is no big deal.

I don’t want to round on Muliaina. I’ve nothing against him personally and, in fact, I feel he’s entitled to his point of view, because he’s been there and done that and we haven’t.

But I am saddened by it, if not surprised.

We have become conditioned to mediocrity to the point where even decorated All Blacks believe that defeat to ordinary teams, such as Scotland, is okay.

Did you ever think you’d live to see the day?

I mean, ruin club rugby if you must. Rob provincial footy of all its meaning if you have to. Tinker with Super Rugby until it becomes an irrelevance, but don’t muck around with our All Blacks.

And yet that’s where we are, with our flagship team now playing inconsequential friendly games – call them exhibition or trial matches if you like – in the name of building depth for the future.

A future of what exactly? A future where the All Blacks win half their matches each year and don’t get out of the pool stage of the Rugby World Cup?

No, thanks.

You expect this kind of stuff from NZR, but surely not from a man who helped build an All Blacks brand that seems to diminish in value by the day.

While we’re on value, I’ll look forward to a reduction in the price of test match tickets and my pay TV subscription. If results don’t matter, then surely you can’t charge as much for the product?

Call me selfish, but I liked it when losses were unacceptable. I liked it when players, coaches and administrators lived in fear of the axe. I liked it when we held these people to account and when they were conscious of the legacy they were charged with upholding and protecting.

Failure was unacceptable and inexcusable.

Was that way of thinking right? Were our expectations unrealistic? Did we heap too much pressure upon people?


But it also built teams that were the envy and benchmark for codes all over the world.

We’re not that anymore. Not even close.

We’ve dropped our standards, we don’t insist upon excellence anymore, we routinely allow players to put themselves ahead of the jersey. Heck, we even put sabbaticals into contracts as a sweetener.

We’ve lost to Argentina, so what’s the big deal about losing to Scotland too?

But why stop there? How about Italy one day? Japan? Georgia?

As long as we’re building depth and combinations, who cares if we lose?

We used to demand better than that. We don’t now.


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RUGBYPASS+ The major Six Nations concern for Wales and England ahead of RWC 2023 The major Six Nations concern for Wales and England ahead of RWC 2023