Nostalgia never gets old.
And certainly not at a time like this, when live sport is out of the question. Thankfully Sky, and other networks, are digging into the vault to bring us games from a bygone era.
There’s plenty of us, be we media types or simply fans, who have expressed a disenchantment with modern rugby. Who’ve said we don’t like the way the game’s played, what players are paid or the proliferation of rest weeks, sabbaticals and restricted minutes.
Well, for the time being at least, we’ve got our game back and we might as well enjoy it.
I hadn’t intended to stay so long on the All Blacks’ 2005 series against the British & Irish Lions, on Tuesday night. In the end I couldn’t turn it off.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 23, 2020
But as much as I was enthralled by those games, I couldn’t stop thinking about 1996 and what – to me at least – will always be the greatest All Blacks year of them all.
I’ll never forget being stood at the northern end of Athletic Park, as New Zealand thrashed Australia 43-6 in driving wind and rain. I’m not sure everyone at that end of the ground was too stoked with standing, but we weren’t about to sit and that was that.
I’ll never forget Zinzan Brooke’s surging run to the line, to set up Jeff Wilson’s try. Or what we yelled at Wallabies wing Ben Tune, after he spilled an Andrew Mehrtens grubber kick for Jonah Lomu to score.
What I don’t remember was who decided to start singing the national anthem late in the second half. All I do know is that everyone within earshot joined in.
We might have been wet through, but we were euphoric and keen for more fun. Rather than pile into town, though, we went back to a friend’s flat to watch a replay of the game.
Sure we’d just seen it, but there was a sense of needing to relive it again and to confirm that New Zealand’s performance had been as great as we thought it was.
We flew down to Christchurch for the All Blacks’ next clash against South Africa, which the internet tells me was won 15-11. I remember plenty from that trip, but nothing of the match itself.
It’s the last-gasp win over Australia in Brisbane that instead comes to mind. I played for a country club in those days – Te Kawau – but piled into Massey’s makeshift clubrooms at the Manawatu Showgrounds to watch that one.
Rightly or wrongly, we just assumed the All Blacks would win, even at 25-15 down. How fitting that Frank Bunce would score the match-winner, having had Wallaby No.8 Michael Brial try and punch his lights out earlier.
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Imagine social media in the '90's! Michael Brial escapes ANY punishment in the Bledisoe Cup test in 1996. We've got this and the All Blacks most famous test wins over the Wallabies on RugbyPass.com ? #allblacks #wallabies #aussierugby #nzrugby #bledisloecup #trinations #rugby #rugbygram #superrugby
Only the mighty All Blacks weren’t done for 1996. Not by a long chalk.
No, South Africa and history beckoned and, boy, what a few weeks that was.
The ‘Incomparables’ the All Blacks were dubbed afterwards, having avenged all sorts of history en route to that first away series win over the Springboks.
Don’t ask me what time it was when victory finally came in Pretoria. All I know is that back in Palmerston North, the three-tiered grandstand in the lounge of our flat – built with materials “borrowed’’ from the nearby timber yard – was packed.
Spent, although hardly as spent as skipper Sean Fitzpatrick and the boys, we rose from our seats at fulltime to perform a haka in the driveway. It seemed like the least we could do.
Who knows if the All Blacks will play in 2020. In all fairness, they probably shouldn’t. I mean who would they play against anyway?
In the meantime, beyond making sure we all stay safe and well, we have a chance to reconnect with the game. To watch Sky’s various replays and to just enjoy the footy. Not worry about the result, or the composition of the teams or fuss about who’ll be rotated for next week.
And when live rugby finally returns, there’s every reason to expect it might resemble what we enjoyed so much in 1996.
Guys aren’t going to keep being paid the fortunes they earn now and teams maybe won’t travel so frequently. But a market will develop again for watching our own players and our own rugby, perhaps supplemented by a full tour from a respected foe such as South Africa.
Sky’s archives don’t just have to fill a gap in the schedule or take us on an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
They can also instruct us on the best way to get rugby back on its feet again.
The decade of the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations:
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