AS I SEE IT (4 Sept)

     By Terry O’Neill.
 Our world is highly technical. Often we’re encouraged to believe answers to sporting problems come from scientific or medical discoveries and analyses.

It was refreshing to learn of Highlanders and All Black winger Waisake Naholo apparent rapid recovery from his officially announced serious leg bone injury sustained during the test against Argentina. Word from the All Black camp shattered Naholo’s aspirations for World Cup inclusion. End of story? Not quite. Naholo returned home to a small Fijian village and a local doctor utilised leaves of specific plants to bring about a spectacular cure.

Advance to early this week. Notably, upon Naholo’s inclusion in the World Cup squad New Zealand, medicos immediately expounded to claim the fracture was not in the serious category after all. The same medical expertise so quick to sideline the winger after the Argentinian test? Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew earlier this week stated that Naholo’s recovery was “not a surprise” and claimed that the All Black medical teams original claim that the injury would require a three month recovery period was a “ridiculous over-estimation”. 

Maybe this illustrates that modern science does not necessarily embody all answers. If it did, surely Steve Hansen and company would be replaced by a bevy of scientific professors, psychologists and motivators to guide the All Blacks to their third World Cup. But it takes more than a purely scientific approach to win world trophies.

Does rugby history harbour answers? The All Blacks played 43 World Cup matches in the seven World Cup tournaments. The All Blacks are the only team to make all semi-finals 1987 to 2003; the only team never to have lost a pool game; have always been top qualifier in its group; and won the Webb Ellis Cup twice, 1987 and 2011.

In the 1987 Cup team under Brian Lochore the All Blacks won all its six games and hopes were high in 1991 under Alex Wylie and John Hart. However in the post group games it was Australians, especially their precious David Campese, who brought about our downfall in the playoffs with a 16-6 win.

1995 under Laurie Mains carried all before it in South Africa before a field goal from Joel Stransky, ably assisted off-field by hotel waitress Susie, gave the home team a three point win in extra time. 1999 under John Hart closed with losses to France and South Africa. Frustratingly, more of the same in 2003 under former Waikato number eight and linguist John Mitchell. We watched Carlos Spencer’s long hopeful pass gratefully intercepted by Australian centre Hedley Mortlock who galloped away to knock the All Blacks out of contention. Little consolation emerged when the All Blacks defeated France 40-13 to attain the bronze medal.

Graeme Henry had his first joust for the Cup in 2007 and the French cavalry knocked out the All Blacks, 20-18. In Henry’s second chance in 2011, and in a thrilling final, a would-be white-baiter Stephen Donald kicked a penalty to hand the All Blacks an 8-7 win. Hysteria floated New Zealand heaven high, and now the agenda is to recover that blueprint of success.

Will science and planning carry national rugby through to World Cup glory?

Or will an explosion of spontaneous brilliance from one like Naholo bring the Cup home?


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