English rugby writer Stuart Barnes has never been one to shy away from criticising the All Blacks for their perceived transgressions and this time he basically labels them cheats.
The article in The Times was headlined: “This All Blacks side are like 2015 vintage - cynical and magical” with the description: “New Zealand have the same mastery of the dark arts and launching rapier attacks that the side of eight years ago used to devastating effect in World Cup triumph.”
He wrote: “In the true tradition of All Black[s] teams, this group of would-be World Cup-winners have a duality to their game unmatched by any other side. Transgression and transition. The 2015 World Cup-winning combination had that maddening, magnificent mix of positive virtues and cynical vices. So do this lot.”
But one has to wonder does Barnes, a former England first five-eighths, truly grasp the game’s intricacies, is he venturing into the refereeing territory with his assessments, or does he hate the All Blacks?
According to Barnes, in the semifinal against Argentina, when the Pumas threatened the New Zealand tryline, the All Blacks resorted to their age-old tactics of transgressions.
“In time-honoured fashion, New Zealand escaped the wrath of the referee when cynicism reached a degree where the yellow card was the only just punishment...
“Nobody was knocking New Zealand bodies away from the breakdown where slow ball - at best - was assured for the attacking Argentine side.
“When the underdogs had a chance to create quick ball, though, lo and behold the brilliant fly half Richie Mo’unga was ‘trapped’ on the wrong side of the ruck. With the delayed recycle, New Zealand reorganised their defensive line and the danger was snuffed out.”
Barnes also popped a shot at former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who was yellow carded against Argentina eight years ago at Wembley Stadium for tripping, calling it a “miracle of miracles”.
He also questioned the All Blacks’ ability to avoid punishment for their “sneaky little ways” - but that raises a thought-provoking thought of another sort. Is it possible the All Blacks’ rugby intelligence and understanding of the game gives them an advantage? Does their adaptability and awareness of the rules set them apart?
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One has to wonder whether Barnes is overstepping his boundaries. Is it possible that his perception of transgressions exceeds the officials’ judgement on the field? After all, rugby has a robust system in place for dealing with foul play, and referees have the final say. If the All Blacks aren’t consistently penalised for their actions, is it because they are getting away with it - or are the referees making the right calls?
Nonetheless, Barnes was not entirely negative in his assessment of the 2023 All Blacks. He highlighted the side’s incredible transition game, applauding their ability to shift from defence to attack with precision and flair.
“Transition also distinguishes them from the rest of the world. From turnovers, they change from defence into attack with a combination of accurate passing, sharp running lines and glorious support angles. The All Blacks capitalise on the split second when attack has to transform itself into defence.”
He also praises the combination of Beauden Barrett and Mo’unga, as well as the decision to shift Jordie Barrett to 12.
And to finish, Barnes admits he enjoys watching the side: “Shadow and light. New Zealand - in this mood - are a fascinating watch.”
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Luke Kirkness is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He previously covered consumer affairs for the Herald and was an assistant news director in the Bay of Plenty. He won Student Journalist of the Year in 2019.
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