Gutted but gracious: stunned New Zealanders concede ‘better team won’ rugby

As New Zealand woke up on Sunday morning, the long weekend had lost its lustre.

On Saturday night, the All Blacks had crashed out of the Rugby World Cup in an underwhelming show against England, and the tantalising sweetness of a possible three-time World Cup victory was gone.

But New Zealanders, as is their way, conceded defeat gracefully, and were soothed by the impressive and admirable prowess of the England side. This wasn’t a loss due to a controversial ref call or dirty play from the opposition. This was defeat in the face of greatness.

Immigration minister Iain Less-Galloway summed up the mood of the nation when he tweeted on Sunday: “1) The better team won. Congrats to England. They were superior in every facet & deserved victory. 2) The All Blacks lost with dignity & grace even though it hurt like hell. 3) It’s good for the game to see more teams capable of winning the World Cup. Go Wales!”

The Herald on Sunday, the country’s largest Sunday paper, turned its entire front page black, and in small print declared gently: “The All Blacks are out of the World Cup. If you want to read more, go to the sports section.”

The front-page of New Zealand’s Herald on Sunday.



The front-page of New Zealand’s Herald on Sunday. Photograph: Herald on Sunday/ social media

England’s superior play was warmly acknowledged by New Zealanders – and humour emerged amidst the hangovers, as well as a genuine respect for Eddie Jones’ side, who All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has described as “tremendous”.

The country’s national Sunday tabloid, The Sunday Star Times, devoted its front page to a bloodied picture of All Black TJ Perenara, under the headline “Yoko, Oh no”, describing the loss as a “horror show”.

Front page of the Sunday Star Times in New Zealand

Page one of the Sunday Star Times in New Zealand. Photograph: Twitter/Sunday Star Times

But retired Auckland rugby player Ben Atiga urged New Zealand to take the defeat on the chin – and get the ball out on Sunday morning as a way to ease the pain.

“It’s over, life isn’t,” Atiga tweeted. “Get the ball out and chuck it around. Spark up the feed and put on the jams. Have a laugh.”

Ben Atiga
(@atiga1037)

NZ take it easy tonight. It’s over, life isn’t. Get the ball out and chuck it around. Spark up the feed and put on the jams. Have a laugh and make sure someone drives uncle home tonight! 😉 #EverythingIsKaPai #RunStraightNeff😂 #ThatUncle #PoiE 🇳🇿 pic.twitter.com/CcACr7tvug


October 26, 2019

Will Nelson, 27, of the North Island, said the loss hadn’t hurt as much expected – a sentiment expressed around the country, where sometimes defeat can result in a depressed national mood that lingers for days.

“I’m not feeling too bad to be honest. I’m usually really nervous watching the All Blacks but I wasn’t yesterday because I never really felt like we were in the game,” said Nelson.

“I’m a bit gutted the All Blacks didn’t play better as it could have been an epic contest but they didn’t seem to turn up for the game – I thought England were pretty incredible.”

Amidst the gracious and moderate reactions of most , the opposition National MP Judith Collins took the opportunity to take a dig, tweeting that an All Blacks World Cup defeat “Never happened when we were in Govt” .

Judith Collins
(@JudithCollinsMP)

Never happened when we were in Govt


October 26, 2019

The National party leader, Simon Bridges, was praised for summing up the mood of the nation with his simple, unadorned response to the loss: “Bugger”.

Not all New Zealanders took it so well. One note of discord was the vandalism of a vehicle in Auckland. Painted up in the colours of the Union Jack, the mini has its windows smashed in outside a Devonport pub.

The incident appeared to be isolated however, with New Zealand police reporting a “fairly routine” Saturday night around the country, in terms of violence and family-harm incidents. Busy, as weekends always are, “but not out of the ordinary in terms of incidents or demand”.

Newshub
(@NewshubNZ)

Devonport pub has Union Jack car smashed after England beat the All Blacks https://t.co/oSuruGWFOs pic.twitter.com/MtNpNDyb4X


October 27, 2019

Following significant All Blacks losses, sports analysts and the national media usually dissect in earnest what went wrong, who is to blame, and who should take the fall for it. The All Blacks’ dominance on the rugby world stage is part of New Zealand’s appeal as a tourist destination – “the home of rugby” – and losses can have financial consequences too.

But this time around, the blame-game was unusually muted.

At the New Zealand Herald, its sports desk compiled the top five reasons the All Blacks lost, and in top billing was the simple reason “1. England simply too good”, followed closely by “Scoreboard pressure” and “Eddie Jones”.

At New Zealand’s largest news website, Stuff, Sir Ian McGeechan wrote that he’d never seen the All Blacks so outplayed – putting the spotlight on England’s talent, rather than the All Blacks deficiencies.

“This was a technical and tactical masterclass in which England had a complete appreciation of what they were trying to achieve. Eddie Jones, take a bow,” McGeechan wrote.

Stuff Mood-o-Meter

RWC Mood-O-Meter, Stuff, New Zealand Photograph: Stuff website

Stuff’s national RWC Mood-O Meter – which was clocked at “no worries” on Friday afternoon, had swung to “gutted” by Sunday morning.

But considering the passion many New Zealanders have for the game – often described as the national religion – it was a “gutted” mired in respect, resignation, and continued love for a game that can surprise and even delight a country so used to world domination.