Firstly, may I say, I LOVE England! I'm a kiwi living here on round two (I couldn't stay away). I came back for the people, the banter, the English charm, the pubs, the socialness, the parks, the gigs and about a billion other things. But mostly, I came back for the people. The English are open minded, tolerant and compassionate, and some of my very best and dearest friends. My life would be grey and meaningless without them.
When it comes to rugby I admit, I'm often very hard on the English (team that is, not my friends). It doesn't mean to say I care about this team any less. After the All Blacks, the England rugby team is the team I take most interest in. Often for all the wrong reasons however.
I hated them winning the world cup in 2003. I didn't think they deserved it. As far as I was concerned, they were a ten man team with a magical kicker that scored all their points for them. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and the residue still lingers. Did I hate that kicker? No I loved Johnny Wilkinson - and still do. He seems a totally honourable dude with beautiful qualities (and so talented). Ditto his captain Martin Johnson, who is now his battling coach.
I think my anger with English rugby has come from seeing (IMHO only), stick it up the jumper dross dominating the world game at tournaments. But that's the way teams have won tournaments in the past, right? Playing it safe. (May the ELVS change this forever - hail mary, hail mary).
The English media haven't helped either (harping on about New Zealanders plundering the pacific islands really cut to the bone). Six years later and they're STILL harping on about Brian O'Driscoll (yes, I know he's Irish but he was playing for the Lions in this instant) and 'speargate'. Launching a national hate campaign against Tana Umaga was not professional or responsible (yes it was a spear I believe, but still, the hate campaign against him was awful). And then there's hiring an Iraq war spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, to be media relations stirrer for the Lions on that fateful tour (who has far more blood on his hands than any tackle legal or illegal on a rugby field).
And don't bring up the the jealous 'you're a big cheat' campaign against a person, who is just quite simply, a way better rugby player than anything produced in the north. Oops, I did bring it up after all, silly me. Mr McCaw has won the IRB international player of the year three times (more than any other). You do the math, rugby supporters of Neil Back, Richard Hill and Lewis Moody. Anyway, all of this has never pushed me towards loving northern hemisphere rugby. The sheer opera of it means I'm team Carmen, not team Don Jose.
But these things were looking like they were in the past. I was enjoying English rugby (finally daring to play a little more attack). I loved the Six Nations. Heck, even Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times had come around to the Southern Hemisphere way of thinking when it came to appreciating skills on the field (almost) which makes it easier to stomach him. So I admit, I have been thawing. (Toreador!)
Until...the good old English rugby clubs, those last bastians of the old boys network, with their bulbous noses and pinched ruddy faces stuck their heads above the parapet once more. And why? Moaning about a charity Super Rugby match for the people of Christchuch being held at Twickenham.
I mean, here they are, these wealthy clubs on the richest currency of a meal ticket in the world. They've enticed hundreds of antipodean players over with the pound leaving us to try and pick up the pieces, replenishing our depleted stocks. I feel we've given, and they've taken. Year after year.
So, after a quite simply wonderful game against the Crusaders and Sharks at Twickenham, where thousands of ex-pat kiwis felt they could go and support Christchuch and pay their dues after feeling so distant from the terrible events shaken by that earthquake, we've got some mean spirited clubs moaning on about how 'it's a disgrace' that this Super Rugby match was played on the same day as the Aviva (excuse me while I yawn) premiership.
Hello and please? Words fail me in this instant. They're rich, they're incompetent and they have thrown their toys out of the pram once again. That's what happens I guess when you're a spoilt brat that's used to getting your own way all the time.
The fact of the matter is, English club rugby is holding the English national game back. (We all know it, and we don't really mind if it means the English rugby team chalks up another loss). Skills are not at a premium in the UK (they blame the weather, but New Zealand has worse, so go figure). The north plays a different brand of rugby. It's attritional and sometimes entertaining, but while the clubs rule the roost, England, the 'richest' rugby team in the world will always consistently lose their international tests against the big three.
As for this 'manager' from the Saracens. What a joke. Get a life mate and think about the families in Christchurch dealing actually with losing someone in that earthquake. Think about it. Please, just for a moment, think about someone else.
On a (one thousand times) smaller level, think about the Crusaders. They, with the good people of Christchurch, lost their stadium and all their world cup games. They're trying to cheer people up in Canterbury with some spectacular rugby, because quite simply, sport (trivial as it is in the big scheme of things) can lift us up and take us out of our sadness for a few breathless moments.
The behaviour of these self righteous clubs is jaw dropping. But the dialogue after this Super Rugby match in Twickenham highlights in bold how truly awful and egotistical some of them are. Shame on you Nigel Wray of the Saracens. You're a disgrace to your fellow country men/women (who have been compassionate and thoughtful). You singlehandedly tarnish their good intentions.
Nigel Wray could learn a few lessons from the dignified people of Christchurch in this instance. Will he start thinking about others first? Probably not. Because putting someone else before his own petty thoughts is beyond his comprehension. But if he did, just for an instance, he might have won a few more friends. As it is, it's lost. And with it, a lot of respect for English club rugby.