Matt Ravden pointed me to his blog post yesterday about the Rugby World Cup. The central question was whether – having being knocked out at the quarter-final stage – the All Blacks could still claim to be the best team in the world? After all, winning the World Cup doesn’t automatically mean that you move straight to the top of the world rankings.
My perspective is a semantic one. While the All Blacks can claim (probably rightly) to have the best collection of individual rugby talent, I think the World Cup has clearly demonstrated that they’re not the best team…a team being more than the sum of its collective parts. France were the better team in the quarter-final against New Zealand because their players dug deeper, played for each other with passion and commitment and the All Blacks couldn’t match them. Ditto for England against Australia and, of course, against France last weekend. I’m biased, but if there was a team of rugby players that I wanted playing for my children’s lives (or mine!) it’d be England.
The Kiwis and the Aussies have reacted very badly to losing, as you might expect. Or should we? The French haven’t reacted with anything like the same sense of injustice. I’m back home in France now and almost without exception people are being magnanimous in defeat. When dropping the kids off at school yesterday my wife was congratulated by numerous other parents, all wishing England well next weekend. Even the French press I read on Sunday gave credit to England for the deserved victory. It seems French people are looking forward, not back.
No doubt fans of Australia and New Zealand will trot out the old mantra, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” I can’t stand that particular motto. It’s also true to say “show me a bad loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Losing well, with dignity, shows more character and spirit than losing poorly and moaning about others’ poor decisions.
I think it comes down to a nation’s sense of its own identity. Australia’s a young country, with a relatively small population and without the depth of history of an England or France. It’s a massive country with a small town attitude. A huge proportion of the Australian national identity is centred on its sporting success and when that falls apart, there isn’t a great deal else to turn to. While sporting success to the English and French is important and desired, we’ve all got a lot of other rich and diverse stuff – film, art, music, history, business, architecture – to get excited about, so we tend to move on a bit more quickly.
There are perhaps some lessons there for our Antipodean friends. But then, we’ve probably been teaching them enough over the last couple of weeks.