WHAT do you do when you win the Rugby World Cup? How do you release the tension after ending a twenty-four year wait and months of collective anxiety in your homeland? Would it be difficult to come down off such a high?
Some such as Richie McCaw had to undergo treatment on injuries picked up in the quest for the Webb-Ellis Cup, while Dan Carter’s wedding this month was the subject of a women’s magazine exclusive. Others have been engaging in less conventional and more controversial activities as part of their World Cup win wind down.
During a month spent in the Land of the Long White Cloud during the World Cup, I spoke to countless Kiwis with differing degrees of rugby obsession and they seemed to be passionately “backing their boys in black”, nearly always commenting “most of them are just proper down-to-earth blokes.”
Only once I heard criticism of the team’s image and mentality as a whole and it came from a fan commenting “our guys are just too cookie-cutter, trying to fit into this All Black brand, a bit manufactured. There is no denying how well they play but they just seem too perfect, a bit bland, maybe even boring!”
Glancing at the team of black-lad rugby warriors from the outside you could take this view. Some of their physiques look like Roman or Greek marble sculptures, or in the case of Sonny Bill Williams, a bit like an Action Man figure!
Williams is a good example of someone who physically may appear as if he was produced in a South Pacific rugby factory but yet on many levels he breaks the mould.
The Aucklander, with Samoan blood has been hitting the headlines since he peeled off his All Blacks jersey after hoisting the Webb-Ellis cup. Did Sonny Bill decide to indulge in a spot of fishing like captain Richie? Maybe, but that is not what has the New Zealand media buzzing.
As well as signing a one year contract with the Hamilton based Waikato Chiefs Super 15 franchise, which for the moment has ended speculation he that he would return to rugby league, he has announced that just 17 days before the commencement of the rugby season he will fight for the New Zealand heavyweight boxing title.
Not content with already making it as a big name in both rugby union and league, Williams pursues a boxing career, parallel to that of chasing oval balls. So, far he has won all four of his professional bouts and the fight in February against Richard Tutaki is seen as a step up.
Despite being dubbed a lazy trainer and lacking in fitness in comparison with his All Black opponent the 33 year old boasted he had not been knocked out in 50 fights.
As well as his professional boxing career setting him apart from his rugby colleagues, the centre is the first Muslim to wear to don the All Black strip. After some highly publicised drink related incidents, Williams turned to religion to help get his life back on track.
While Williams laid boozy antics to rest as he channelled his energies off the pitch to boxing and spiritual matters as well as claiming a spot as described by one pundit as a “lust object for the women of New Zealand” thanks to his shirt-sleeve becoming ripped off during the World Cup opener against Tonga leading to him squeezing into a form fitting replacement in front of a wolf-whistling Eden Park, unfortunately fellow All Black Zac Guildford has endured a very public battle before, during and after the tournament with alcohol.
Very rightly the 22 year-old winger sparked public outrage after a series of unsettling drink-induced episodes during a holiday in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. One of which involved him running naked and bloody after falling off a scooter into a bar and allegedly attacking and verbally abusing patrons.
During the Rugby World Cup, the Canterbury Crusaders player publically apologised for drinking whilst on Tri-Nations duty, when an alcohol ban had been in place.
In the aftermath of the Rarotonga incident, Guildford has publically vowed to give up drinking and will seek counselling. Although no police charges were made, the NZRU imposed a NZ$4,000 fine and a four match suspension.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder stated what the consequences will be if Guildford makes any more indiscretions "There's no second chance saloon here, that's really clear. There's no more misconduct. If there's anything remotely close, he's gone."
Despite the unacceptable nature of this behavior, the All Black was greatly impacted by the death of his father Rob in 2009. What makes this situation even more tragic is that the father died of a heart attack while watching his son win the Under 20 World Cup in Tokyo. The significance of this event in the young player’s life must not be underestimated as a factor leading to his recent problems.
Last weekend, the Hawke’s Bay native made some positive headlines by helping his family with The Rob Guildford Trust, launched last year, dedicated to his father’s memory, which gives financial burseries to budding athletes of any code who need assistance in purchasing necessary sports wear.
The concept is inspired by how when Guildford was a teenager and his parents were struggling financially, his mother’s employer gave him a gift of “flash” boots.
Guildford’s story is a cautionary tale of how despite having so much talent and opportunity one’s flaws can become magnified under pressure and how even Rugby World Cup have human frailties like the rest of us.