The All Blacks are in the process of launching their charm offensive in Dublin, though not all Irish eyes are smiling at the arrival of a rugby powerhouse yet to lose a test in the republic.
While the Scottish were practically reverential before New Zealand started their Grand Slam attempt in Edinburgh last weekend, one Irish columnist has launched a withering attack on Graham Henry’s team, or more accurately, what they represent.
The Irish Independent’s sports writer Vincent Hogan has panned the All Blacks’ use of the haka, revelled in their sequence of World Cup failures since 1987 and revisited Brian O’Driscoll’s injury-enforced demise on the British and Irish Lions tour in 2005 in a wide-ranging column headed “All Blacks `Aura’ Can’t Mask Their own Failings”.
Hogan delighted in the All Blacks’ failure to regain the Webb Ellis Trophy since winning the inaugural World Cup, claiming the rest of the rugby world was overjoyed when, “once every four years they go into spectacular meltdown”.
“When that happens,” Hogan wrote, “rugby has a grin on its face.
“Outside of their own, few people love the All Blacks. New Zealand victories are, by and large, statements of power.
“They smash teams, then run a bus over their bodies. They play through a vaguely malignant stream of intimidation.
“So seeing them get nailed is one of rugby’s great redemptive offerings,” wrote Hogan, adding: “It’s like watching the school ruffian pick the wrong fight and end up with a nosebleed.”
Hogan went on to claim as a sporting nation rugby was “pretty much all they’ve got”.
“Take (golfer) Michael Campbell out of the equation and exactly what else do they bring to a mainstream sport on a global stage?” he asked.
He retained most of his vitriol for the pre-match haka, a ritual he describes as a “leery war dance”.
“When the mood takes them, the All Blacks embellish it (Kapa O Pango) with a gesture that looks uncannily like a promise to slit an opponents’ throat.”
The All Blacks were precious or vengeful if the haka was not shown due respect, he added.
“Turn you back on it as the Wallabies (actually David Campese) did in Wellington in 1996 and you risk being charged with discourtesy. Face up to it politely, as Brian O’Driscoll and Lions did ’05, and chances are you’re heading to the next casualty ward,” he said, referring to the Lions’ and Irish captain being injured when he was driven into the turf by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu shortly after the first test kicked off .
Hogan then rounded on Henry’s “dour, hubristic, adversarial” manner before accusing the Irish team of showing the All Blacks too much respect.
“Maybe that’s the thing about the All Blacks, we pay them too much respect when, essentially, they pay us none.”
Still even Hogan accepted the statistics could not lie — 20 wins and just one draw from a test rivalry that started in 1905.
“They get their kicks out of smashing our types into small pieces. Good luck to them,” Hogan continued.
“Yet those of us who covered the inaugural World Cup in ’87… could never have imagined how lonesome they would be for the Webb Ellis trophy 21 years on.”
Looking ahead to Sunday morning’s (NZT) test at Croke Park, Hogan thought those World Cup setbacks would continue to undermine the All Blacks’ legacy.
“Maybe that is the only revenge open to us — the knowledge that nothing they can do here against us poor, earth-bound people can bring absolute fulfilment.”