The social importance of rugby in New Zealand

The social importance of rugby in New Zealand

After volatile preparations, which ended with the biggest defeat in their history against South Africa (35-7), we knew that they were far from their best levels. This was confirmed by the opening match of the Rugby World Cup against France, which the Blues won (27-13). However, the All Blacks, who play their second group match against Namibia on Friday 15 September, continue to dazzle the oval world.

Three-time world champions (1987, 2011 and 2015), the New Zealanders play scintillating rugby, made of dazzling running with ball in hand, while being able to revolutionize the huddle, as they did at the turn of the century, with their two-team formation. Heel instead of one.

Black puzzle

But even before kick-off, the All Blacks’ legend is preserved, in every match, with the haka, a traditional warrior dance aimed at gaining psychological dominance over their opponents. “The extensive media coverage of rugby in recent years and social media has contributed to an increased mystique surrounding the All Blacks, which no other team in the world has.” explains John Norright, Director of the Sport, Movement and Social and Human Development (SMASHD) Research Group at the University of Sydney.

The issue of image and reputation is well mastered by the heroes themselves. “The haka leader should be ugly and scary. Since 99% of players are the same, this is not a problem »“, former All Blacks player Liam Messi joked in 2013.

Aside from folklore, New Zealand’s identity is also shaped by rules set by the country’s federation. New Zealand is now the only country in the world that only selects players from local clubs.

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fact “It is important to maintain our philosophy,” Hindsight judges Byron Kelleher, one half of the former Blacks team from 1999 to 2007. “Of course, that was the case for me (1)There comes a stage when we aspire to discover other cultures, but it is natural for us to hand over the reins to new generations. »

Social elevator

Because alongside sport, rugby in New Zealand remains above all, for many young people, a sign of identity and a means of accessing higher education, in particular through obtaining scholarships. “Rugby is ubiquitous, accessible and generally free, whether in public or private education. This gives the opportunity to grow socially, no matter where we come from and whatever our social origin.” Byron Kelleher explains.

Less populated, in worse health and more deprived than New Zealanders of European descent, Maori, who today represent 17.4% of the country’s population, have found in the sport a path to social advancement.

“Rugby is one of the most prominent areas of success for MāoriJohn Norrett summarizes. Former players have moved into management, politics and business, thanks in part to their successes in rugby. Since 2000, this possibility has also been available to women. »

A good example of this is Farrah Palmer, captain of the Black Ferns, the women’s rugby union team, during three World Cup finals (1998, 2002 and 2006). She is now Vice President of the New Zealand Rugby Union, and also teaches at Massey University (Palmerston).

However, New Zealand is sometimes accused of kidnapping players from neighboring islands, such as Samoa, Tonga or Fiji, to recruit them into its national team. Over the past 50 years, numerous players from the Pacific Islands or from New Zealand’s migrant communities have represented the All Blacks. The most famous is winger Jonah Lomu of Tongan origin.

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“The fact that players of Pacific Island descent can play for New Zealand has increased competition, but as with Maori and New Zealanders of European descent, it provides a greater incentive to succeed.”Judge John Norright. Sometimes other teams complain while realizing that rugby emerges winners, and to this day it remains the best advertisement for this isolated part of the world. »

New Zealand – Namibia, match of extremes

After a heavy defeat to Italy in their first match (52 to 8), the Namibians, led by South Africa’s Alister Coetzee, have few illusions about the outcome of the World Cup finals. Their historical precedent against the All Blacks doesn’t speak in favor of the ‘Welwitschias’ either. In 2019, the latter in Japan was stunned by New Zealand, losing 71 to 9.

Namibia, a country located in southern Africa with a population of 2.5 million people, also holds the record for the largest defeat in history, during the 2003 World Cup against Australia (142-0). The team then received 22 attempts. In this contradictory confrontation, New Zealand must collect points after its disappointment against France, before facing Italy on September 29.

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