Annotated bibliography of selected themes on New Zealand rugby literature 1967-2003
New Zealand has always prided itself as being the premier rugby nation. Rugby has been a major influence that has shaped the way we see ourselves. It is more than simply our national sport. Rugby has been a mirror reflecting the state of our society, our national character. Currently New Zealand rugby is experiencing a relative lean time and in any time of hardship it is common to look back and reflect on the good times while also analysing the not so good times. During the period 1998-2002 the success of the national rugby team had waned, no Bledisloe Cup which had previously been considered a given, no World Cup since 1987 and narrow last minute losses and it has been suggested by writers, supporters, talk back callers and former players that players may have attained a state of softness, greed and lack of initiative, removing them from the environment which supposedly made them strong and which they are meant to represent. The unexpected defeat by France at the semi final stage of the 1999 World Cup and the loss of sub-host status for the 2003 World Cup dealt hammer blows to its confidence in the New Zealand game and those running it. Those in charge were found guilty and vilified. In the first stage of this national enquiry the team was accused of cowardice and capitulation to the enemy. Rugby journalists and former greats described the All Blacks as spineless, clueless, leaderless, gutless, panic stricken, lacking in skills and perhaps worst of all soft up front. Embittered kiwi fans wanted a cruel and protracted revenge for what they seemed to regard as a personal betrayal. Either through gross incompetence or dereliction of duty (All Black coach) Hart had let them down (Thomas 2003, 79). These suggestions began a series of debates that continue to this day. However upon closer examination it appears that some of these concerns have been articulated before, particularly in times of disappointments and defeat. Even in times of great success there have still been voices that cry out for change or re-evaluation. Overreaction to a rugby defeat has been a common reaction within New Zealand society as we reflect inwards and feel the need to apportion blame. The increased commercialisation that led to the success of the World Cup in 1987, the return from isolation of South Africa in 1992, the dramatic entry of professionalism in 1995 and the harsh reality of player drain are just a few issues that have enlivened or (depending on your standpoint) threatened the standing of our national sport. Some rugby literature seeks to help illuminate and understand how rugby came to be an important nation builder with reference to Imperialism and making our way in the Commonwealth. The 1905 Originals intensified the belief of colonial physical and mental superiority. Other themes that have shaped our history have been race relations, rugby violence and its rationalization of its place in rugby, the pre-eminence of the rugby hard man and how these perceptions have changed through the era of amateurism to the age of professionalism. Many of these themes are intertwined and have influenced the style in which we have played, which in turn have influenced how we perceive ourselves through rugby, and how the rest of the world sees us through rugby.