Just a game? Rugby was no longer ours — it had been taken over by the men in the corporate boxes. Those long-lunching lions of industry with their paws in the pie, those management puppets with their paradigms and synergies and best practice; the Fays, the Richwhites, the traders, the inside traders; the old boys, the Grammar Boys, the invented jobs for the boys — the know-nothing consultants, strategists, facilitators, analysts and visionaries with no ideas.
All Blacks coach John Hart, with his fondness for business buzzwords, was especially reviled. The old values. Where rugby was pure, where All Blacks played for the jersey.
Colin Meads was often invoked. A team following in the footsteps of The Originals and The Invincibles. Lochore, having retired from rep rugby the year before, was working on his Wairarapa farm when he got an SOS call from the All Blacks.
Lochore knew it was the least he could do. Playing for the greatest team on Earth was the Holy Grail for every New Zealand rugby player, and for those lucky enough to be chosen, it was your duty to play until a better or younger man replaced you. But in the professional era, a stint in the All Blacks became a means of burnishing your CV for foreign markets. Initially, it was the veterans, the old nags, who went north for the yen, the pound, the franc, but then All Blacks at the peak of their powers, like Carl Hayman and Nick Evans, started leaving. Players who walked away from the All Blacks were farewelled with shrugged shoulders.
When everything has its price, what is the price of that? We are becoming watchers, not players. While the Rugby Union always massages the stats, our national game can claim just , registered players — including only 28, senior players England has more than half a million. The old tuskers who used to play on until they were carted off in a box are giving the game away earlier: the average age of a senior club player has fallen from 28 in to 21 today.
Meanwhile, the club match reports, which once swallowed whole sections of newspapers, are relegated to the results in brief. His hometown, Wellington, boasted 31 rugby clubs in , but just 18 in Player numbers were down 40 per cent. Grand old clubs were disappearing or amalgamating. Down in Otago, Union, one of the oldest clubs in the country — it dated back to — joined with Alhambra to become Alhambra-Union. Again you may hear the ghost of T. New Zealand has changed. Just as the Saturday night dances at the local church hall have faded away, the local rugby club is no longer at the hub of things.
We spend our weekends at the mall now, shopping, working, zombie-ing.
Brunching over lattes and eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce. Or up at the bach. Playing PlayStation. On the net. Trying a triathlon.
Rugby, Racing and Beer no longer rules and who, other than beer-ad makers, misses it? Who misses the dreary conformity of rugby-head culture, always the least attractive aspect of the game? Who really misses this?
And an arthritic future to look forward to in the myths of old, criticisms of new; while the nectar flowed till you could almost see the reflection in its dregs… passing… passing. But in spite of the Philistinism of our state religion, you come back to the game. Rugby still matters. Much more. Could it be the handsome guide eager to give her special private tours? Or the inscrutable jazz musician who plays on historic Royal Street? What about the ratings-starved radio talk-show host? Or even the amiable owner of the local Gris-Gris Bar? When the murderer strikes again, leaving macabre clues, she thinks she can unmask the killer.
But Piper will have to conjure up some old black magic of her own if she hopes to live long enough to reveal the truth. Thanks for signing up! We've emailed you instructions for claiming your free e-book. Tell us more about what you like to read so we can send you the best offers and opportunities.
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