The Bermuda Triangle, with apexes in Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, is an area of the Atlantic Ocean in which many ships and aircraft have disappeared. The Rugby World Cup is an international tournament at which a nation’s hopes turn to ashes at four-yearly intervals.
Opinion is divided between those who believe these occurrences defy conventional explanations – such as human error or outdated equipment – and those who maintain there’s nothing particularly mysterious about them.
The paranormal school links the Bermuda Triangle disappearances to extra-terrestrial activity or the lost continent of Atlantis; sceptics point out many of these incidents have been misreported, and there have been just as many disappearances in other stretches of ocean.
The All Blacks’ World Cup flops are often attributed to choking – failing to handle the pressure of the occasion and/or the expectations of a small country that places an unhealthy emphasis on being the best rugby nation in the world. Another theory, based on the All Blacks’ habitual dominance between World Cups, is that they peak too early. You could equally argue they peak too late, but for some reason no one ever does.
Those who find New Zealanders a bit much when it comes to rugby – insufferable in their assumption of superiority and expectation of victory, ungracious if not downright ugly in defeat – put it down to karma.
In the opposite corner, those who resist the notion that World Cup failure is in the All Blacks’ DNA attribute each loss to a different “on the day” factor – selection errors, food poisoning, poor refereeing – or simply cite the old adage “You can’t win ’em all”.
My theory is that the public’s intolerance of failure – often identified as a major contributor to the All Blacks’ extraordinary consistency – actually makes it harder for them to win World Cups.
Ignoring squawks of protest from the NZRU and its Australian counterpart, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has effectively forfeited the upcoming Tri-Nations championship by selecting a B team for games here and in Australia. His claim that 21 first-choice players couldn’t be considered because of injury would be easier to swallow if his predecessor, Jake White, hadn’t done exactly the same in 2007.
Despite appearing every bit as fanatical about its national team as we are about ours, the South African public is clearly prepared to go along with the strategy of losing battles to win the war.
The most obvious drawback to going all out to win every game is that it’s hard to keep your powder dry, physically or tactically.
En route to a clean sweep of the 2003 Tri-Nations, the All Blacks flogged the Boks by 36 points in Pretoria and the Wallabies by 29 in Sydney. In the return games less than a month later, the margins had shrunk to 8 and 4 points respectively. When the All Blacks were stopped in their tracks by a wised-up Wallabies team in the World Cup semi-final, there had been a 41-point swing in the space of a few months.
Another danger is the complacency induced by hammering teams who don’t take the contest as seriously as you do. Between the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, the All Blacks trounced France four times, but when the two teams met in the quarter-final in Cardiff, the French team was a different animal.
If you front up for some games but not others, it’s harder for opponents to get a handle on exactly how good you are, and you retain the capacity to go up another gear when it counts. If you treat every test as a must-win, the reverse is true.
The NZRU has continually said it places a higher value on consistent success that preserves the All Blacks’ aura and legacy than on winning the World Cup. Likewise, we are told, its principal sponsor, Adidas.
The trouble is the public wants it both ways, and the aura and legacy will start to crumble if the All Blacks don’t win the game’s biggest prize sometime soon.