There was a time when rugby test matches had a sense of occasion. Now, it seems, they’re a bit like the latest software upgrade. Don’t worry about missing this one, there will be another along in two or three clicks of a Yes I Have Read The Terms and Conditions.
Even the Rugby World Cup…hell, it only seems the other day the first or second* most famous whitebaiter in NZ history (and son, btw, of my 7th Form History teacher) was lining up a shot at goal at Eden Park.
This year? I have an uneasy feeling. And so, for now, I’m going to take a dip in the steamy bathtub of nostalgia. I like it, and besides, it has a cute rubber duck.
So, here, first: an excerpt from the fillum Footrot Flats about rugby.
It might as well be a documentary. Captures the attitudes and dreams of an era perfectly.
And then there’s this moment, from winter 1977. The try that won the series against the Lions. It wasn’t the first test series I’d followed – that was the previous year, when the All Blacks went to South Africa – but this has happier memories.
Firstly, of course, the ABs won, unlike in South Africa, when the tests were almost 16 players versus 14, partly because the All Black selectors did not take a first class fullback or an in form goal-kicker, and partly because the referees were South African and delivered some crucial, dodgy decisions at critical moments, especially in the fourth test (one referee is reputed to have half-apologised, afterwards, to an All Black by saying ‘you have to understand, I have to live in this country’ .
Secondly, and of growing importance in the mid-1970s, was the Lions series did not have the moral ambiguity attached to the South African tour.
Personal example: at the age of 12, I could follow the 1976 series: by the 1981 tour, I was not watching any of the games (and never have since, btw, even on Youtube), rowing with my parents and getting into scuffles at school on the issue. (note, too – I didn’t start scuffles physically, but being unable to keep a smart arsed comment to myself used cause situations to develop )
The NZ Listener, in those days, had a monopoly on listing what was on TV. Yes, that’s right. The newspapers were allowed to print the TV listings for that day, but no one else was allowed to print them 10 days or so ahead, as the state owned Listener did.
Whenever the All Blacks had a test series, the Listener would have a big preview edition, usually with the All Black captain of the era on the cover (can still recall a great pic of Andy Leslie, the 1974-76 captain, balancing a ball and looking purposefully into the middle distance, before the South African series).
There was a centrefold pull out, with all the games on the tour: you could pin it on the wall and mark off the scores in each game.
They were kind of neat. Well, I thought so.
The other oddity was around whether the tests would be broadcast live on the telly. This was never officially announced or included in the tv listings.
The Rugby Union, you see, was worried fewer people would go to the games.
It didn’t make a blind bit of difference because everyone assumed the tests would be on the telly.
And everyone was right. Rioting in the streets would have eventuated if the games hadn’t been broadcast. Would have made what happened in 1981 look like a friendly game of swingball in comparison.
The first test of the Lions series coincided with National Field Days at Mystery Creek, and me and my brother were there with Dad. One of the the stalls – it may have been Livestock Improvement – had connected up a tv and the place was crowded out well before the official kick off time at 2:30pm.
Remember: this is despite it being officially uncertain whether the games were to be broadcast or not.
The other thing I note about this Lawrie Knight try is how people are reacting to it. The crowd, of course, goes wild, but then by this point in the game the crowd was probably fairly well lubricatd.
Look at the players, though. They’re probably quite pleased, but in most cases its kind of difficult to tell.
They’re certainly not going berserk and hugging each other like soccer players.
That’s another thing which has changed, changed utterly.
Russell Brown has a piece on this here: he points to a wider degree of comfort with emotions amongst New Zealanders, especially men, and I think he’s right there, but of course he suggests it might be something to do with drugs.
Now, this is not my area of expertise, so I have to defer to Russell’s much greater knowledge of the topic. And it is quite possible – very possible in fact, – that the use of various substances is more widespread than I have noticed.
But I have my doubts.
No doubt a Colin Meads or similar would put it down to too much pasta and salad eating by test players, not enough mutton, and far too many women teachers.
Again, I think this is unlikely.
I just think we’ve loosened up a bit. Also, there is a degree of emotional incontinence around now which has probably swung too far the other way.
It would not do to greet every success as if we are slighty embarrassed by the whole thing. (although, surely, if we are embarrassed by the whole thing, it should be ok to express that)
Besides, emotional repression has been unfairly maligned, at times, I feel. There is a place for it. Sometimes you do have to Not Make a Fuss – be it about a good thing or bad thing.
There is such a thing as a happy medium.
Well, a reasonably content medium, anyway.
We don’t want to get too carried away.
* Whether you like The Bone People nor not, I rekkin Beaver has to compete with NZ’s only Booker Prize Winner for this title.