All Blacks win Rugby World Cup. Now angst is over


Stopped ... Nicholas Mas.

Stopped … Nicholas Mas. Photo: Getty Images

Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons! And even before the opening whistle of the World Cup final, the French rugby team did exactly that, linking arms, forming into a veritable rugby battalion and marching right into the teeth of the All Blacks’ haka. Sidney Morning Herald, 10-23-11

Sports in history are usually portrayed as war games, or war skills contests.  In contests between individuals,  the skills of war are used to defeat other individuals; some contests can be very brutal, nearly as brutal as war itself; such as gladiator battles in ancient Rome or a modern prize fight.  Team sports used both the individual skills and unit tactics to create a contest; as with the individual contests, besides the competition, the game served as a dress rehearsal for the ultimate contest – war.

In the modern versions sporting teams share an identity with a school, city, region or nation;  that shared identity appears to have always generated a great deal of emotion in both in the contestants and in the spectators.   Certainly it does today, think of the poor baseball fan beaten nearly to death this year in Los Angeles, or the riots that have accompanied some international soccer meets.  The rivalries can at times be intense, just listen to any sports broadcaster discussing a game between league rivals; they would have one believe the players are willing to die rather than lose to the hated rival.   And it can be worse for the spectators, especially when the teams are national teams.  Everything appears to be on the line, not just the outcome of the game, but national pride and the future happiness of all of the nation’s citizens.

This weekend, four million New Zealanders were standing on the brink of national humiliation – they had been holding their collective breath since defeating Australia in the semi-finals.  The All Black of New Zealand have been called the Goliath of Rugby – they have defeated Australia 96 times (68%) since 1903 – but alas since the Rugby World Cup began, New Zealand has won but once until this week.  Such tension, such angst, but oh the joy of victory; “Celebrate all yea faithful, dance in the streets – you defeated the French in a royal battle, hard fought and fairly won. You are the champions of the world!”

The victory last night at Eden Park against France removed the stress which had hung over the nation since the All Blacks’ semifinal victory against the Wallabies.  When captain Richie McCaw raised the Webb Ellis Cup, the capacity crowd of 61,000 – and a nation of 4 million supporters – bellowed their adoration.  The beast had been slain, the torment which had followed the All Blacks for the past five tournaments had been erased.  France had given them a greater scare than anyone imagined. It was a gut-churning second half as France sought their first World Cup title and the All Blacks battled for redemption. The 2011 All Blacks are the World Cup winners, champions of the world, the elite class to stand alongside their 1987 predecessors. New Zealand Herald, 10-23-11

Maybe instead of viewing games as practice for war we should view them as stress-relievers from war.  This has been a very tense year (decade?), filled with violence and death, don’t we all need something as harmless as a ruby, baseball, football or soccer game to take our minds off the body Gaddafi being kicked around or all of the other pictures of death and destruction we have seen?

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