Saturday 17 March 2018

Tommy Conlon: Some Kiwi journalists adopt a belligerent tone to conceal that they are more like teenage cheerleaders

Belligerent attack on 'whinging Irish' can't mask myopic sycophancy of press cheerleaders

Robbie Henshaw is taken from the field of play during last week’s Test again New Zealand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw is taken from the field of play during last week’s Test again New Zealand. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

They are tough men, the New Zealand rugby lads: hard, no-nonsense men who will go in where it hurts and have a beer and a laugh afterwards.

Yes, he is a man's man, your average New Zealand rugby media man. He is a plain-talking straight-shooting chap who calls it as he sees it.

And you know what he can't abide? He can't abide whingers. That's what he can't abide. Because he's a plain-talking straight-shooting kind of guy. And he's had it up to here with, to quote Chris Rattue, "the whinging Irish". We haven't stopped whinging apparently since the Test match at Lansdowne Road eight days ago.

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Mr Rattue writes a column for The New Zealand Herald. You can tell that he is a plain-talking straight-shooting kind of guy because he uses the word "bloody" in his article. That unfortunate collision which left Robbie Henshaw unconscious? It was "clearly an accidental head clash between (Sam) Cane and Henshaw". But it was "turned into Bloody Saturday by some bloody stupid analysis" from the Irish media.

See the way he says "bloody" twice there? If only the rest of us milk-and-water journos could be so frank and fearless. But Chris is no namby-pamby hand-wringing press box nerd. No, he is a red-blooded blue-collar geezer who can hold his own with the truckers and brickies in the bar of a Saturday night.

The same can surely be said of Duncan Johnstone. "Sadly," he wrote on the website last week, "it seems the Irish are the new whingers of World Rugby."

There is no easy way to say this. So I will just have to come out with my hands up and admit that I am a whinger. I am ashamed that I lack the sort of tough-guy stoicism exemplified by my New Zealand counterparts. They are Clint Eastwood; I am Woody Allen.

And given their macho credentials, it is with a great deal of fear and trepidation that I shall advance the following hypothesis. Indeed my hands are veritably trembling as I type these words.

But let us broaden our perspective here. My timid proposition is that certain elements of the Antipodean sports media assert their testosterone from a safe space. They hide behind the skirts of their successful teams, be it in cricket or rugby or Australian rules. Theirs is a vicarious machismo. It is a hand-me-down kind of courage. They watch the players make the hard yards on the field, and it makes them feel good about themselves up in the press box. Those are hard men down there, brave men; ergo we too are hard and brave. If they are superior on the pitch, we have license to be superior too.

When it comes to kicking England teams in particular, they have made a national sport of it in both countries. When he refers to the Irish as "whingers", Mr Johnstone is kind enough to give us a brief history lesson in the next paragraph. "It is a term," he writes, "we Kiwis have traditionally reserved for the English, the 'whinging Poms' of the game."

Naturally it is a little more difficult to deploy the term when an England team beats them. But oh, how their chests must swell with pride when their boys have beaten "the Poms".

For some reason it reminds me of the lads who hide behind the playground bully at school. They only land a few kicks on the victim after the leader has got him on the ground. And of course they are always anxious to please the bully, lest he might turn on them, or suddenly reject them from the pack.

Which is why, when their rugby stars step out of line on the field of play, they close ranks with such alacrity. They daren't actually do the job that independent journalists are supposed to do. Last week provided a classic example of this sycophantic mentality. Various New Zealand hacks were virtually trampling over each other in the stampede to please their masters.

Let us take one quote to illustrate the point. "The All Blacks aren't coached to go out and tackle high," wrote Johnstone. "They are encouraged to find the operational perimeters allowed by each referee they are confronted with and, yes, sometimes it results in a cynical play, a win at all costs approach."

Ah yes. So in the dressing room before kick-off last Saturday, Steve Hansen, the New Zealand head coach, would have said to his players: "Right boys, let's find the operational perimeters allowed by the referee today." Hansen owes Johnstone and his buddies a few beers for their sterling work last week. When he needed them to be suitably tribal, provincial and myopic, they stepped up to the plate.

Perhaps the real reason some Antipodean sports hacks adopt such a belligerent tone is to conceal the reality that they are more like teenage cheerleaders with ponytails and pompoms. There may be an element of overcompensation going on.

Calling people "whingers" is just a silencing tactic. In any macho culture it is taboo to be called a crybaby. If one cannot deal with the truth, just label the truth-teller a whinger. But three players were concussed last weekend? "Whinger!" But this player has been rendered quadriplegic by that tackle? "Whinger!" But this player has been killed because he was blindsided at a ruck? "Whinger!"

It must feel great to be so hard.

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