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We expect so little from the All Blacks almost losing to Japan doesn't register

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

I watched the All Blacks’ unflattering victory over Japan in a pub.

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A sports bar to be precise, full of folk for whom rugby, racing and beer remain the vices of choice.

Only it was the racing that took centre stage.

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I’m not an equine aficionado myself and was actually trying to watch the footy. But with just one screen offering that, compared to the dozen bringing us Australian gallops from
Flemington and Rosehill, it wasn’t easy.

The commentary over the speaker system was of the racing too, giving a practical example of how irrelevant the rugby was to what should have been an appreciative audience.

I don’t know if the All Blacks and Japan were playing for a trophy. If they were, the Commerce Cup would’ve been an apt name for it.

I hope New Zealand Rugby (NZR) made plenty of dough from taking the All Blacks to Tokyo, because they’ll need it.

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Week after week, NZR does more damage to its flagship brand.

There’s little NZR could do to diminish their own stocks, with Saturday’s scheduling clash between the All Blacks and Black Ferns just another example of the organisation’s ineptitude.

But such is the low regard many folk have for NZR, that they just laughed at that. There was no expectation that NZR could or would preside over an itinerary that did both teams justice.

We simply assume that if there’s a wrong way to do things, NZR will find it.

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It’s the apathy that gets me. The fact that the All Blacks are playing and that people steeped in the game – as lots of folk in that pub were – would rather watch horse racing.

I watched the Japan test again at home on my own, to try and get a better gauge on New Zealand’s performance and ended up coming away with absolute admiration for Japan.

Man-for-man, they shouldn’t have been a match for the All Blacks and yet they bettered them at times.

But do you hear and hue and cry from our rugby public? No, you don’t because, as I suggested last week, we’ve become conditioned to this tripe.

We now expect so little from Ian Foster’s team, that we can barely bother to register our disgust at them almost being beaten by Japan.

Instead, more than a few New Zealanders have looked at Japan lock Warner Dearns and felt pleased that he’s being developed in such a good system.

I interviewed his mother, Tanya, a couple of days after the test and was taken by her comments about the opportunities and support he’s getting in Japan.

She didn’t outright say Warner wouldn’t achieve his potential by playing back here in New Zealand, but she certainly hinted at it.

And this is a woman who is chief executive of the Mid Canterbury Rugby Union.

Well might Japan coach Jamie Joseph suggest his team will face a sterner test against England. The All Blacks might have won the match in Tokyo, but there’s no doubt Joseph and company out-performed their counterparts.

But then we’ve come to expect that, haven’t we? It’s now a surprise when the All Blacks actually play well.

Good luck to NZR, with that. Good luck continuing to command big sponsorship deals or being able to secure lucrative exhibition games, such as this one against Japan.

If the All Blacks aren’t a drawcard for Kiwi rugby fans in the pub on a Saturday night, they won’t keep attracting paying customers in places like Tokyo either.

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