Off the fence
There was a time when rugby players were viewed as being the essence of machismo. Cauliflower ears, spear-tackles, sweat, blood and tears. Now, however an All Blacks fashion clash has angered Rugby World Cup hosts New Zealand ahead of next month’s tournament.
English rugby chiefs have decided that imitation is the best form of flattery and in partnership with their kit suppliers Nike have launched an all-black kit similar to the one worn by the renowned New Zealand All Blacks.
England traditionally play in white but they have decided to switch to a black away kit for their first World Cup match in New Zealand against Argentina on September 10.
The controversial decision by England to copy New Zealand’s iconic 127-year old All Black jersey has incurred a furious response from New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys and the tournament hosts.
‘Snide’, ‘tacky’ and ‘crazy’ are just some of the superlatives being used by disgruntled online All Blacks fans in recent weeks as they come to terms with the England team turning out in remarkably similar attire to their heroes at the Rugby World Cup 2011 on home turf.
Keys has comically called the English ‘a bunch of wannabes’, while legendary player Jonah Lomu has slammed the English for ‘disrespecting the legacy’ of the side.
Many PR experts have congratulated Nike on a clever marketing ploy ahead of a tournament watched by an estimated 4 billion television viewers worldwide.
The marketing ploy explanation seems to be the most plausible to me. The nickname the All Blacks is synonymous with New Zealand and it seems inconceivable that Nike could not have foreseen the furore which would erupt when they designed the kit.
The pressure on the All Blacks to win the Rugby World Cup is immense. Since the inaugural tournament in 1987 which they won the All Blacks have been pre-tournament favourites in each of the last five tournaments.
To be expected to win a competition every time is always a stifling predicament. New Zealand have struggled with this expectation before in much the same way that the English football team struggle with hype and dare I say it Mayo in bygone years.
I sense that this pressure is already beginning to tell on the players and team as a rugby mad public gear up for the tournament.
Online comment boards in New Zealand have been awash with colourful comments as the impending kickoff approaches. One Facebook group humorously entitled ‘Get Our Gear Off’ one unhappy fan who called himself Wynkan said, ‘Sad thing is, England can wear a superman outfit, but they still won’t win.’
I have a feeling the Irish and New Zealand world cup fans will get along just fine.