Thursday, January 17, 2008

“I’m trying to forget” (L'Equipe)

By Ian Borthwick, in Christchurch
Published in L'Equipe newspaper
Thursday, January 17th, 2008
We left Richie McCaw on October 7th in Cardiff, eyes still red the day after a loss to France (18-20), in the World Cup quarterfinal that shattered New Zealand's dream. On Tuesday morning, in Rugby Park, the old stadium in the outskirts of Christchurch the Canterbury Crusaders use as a basecamp, we met with the All Blacks' captain. For the first time since his return home, he accepted to talk about the trauma of this defeat and share his hopes for the future.
- Are you over your failure in the World Cup?

- Right now I'm trying to focus on the future. A new season is starting, I’m in the middle of the preparation, and it feels good to go back to the field. For this I'm lucky, as I'll have, I hope, the opportunity to redeem myself after Cardiff. But I'll always have a thought for those for whom it was the last All Blacks match (Kelleher, Oliver, Jack, Mauger, Howlett...). It must be harder.

- About the quarterfinal, on the field, did you feel that the match was slipping away?

- Some say we lost the plot. But I don't see it that way. Yes, the French had wind in their sails during the second half, but even if we were less efficient than usual, until the last second we were still in the game. We had our chances, we were attacking, and we felt it was about to work... We just made a few mistakes, there was the yellow card, a sum of little details that went against us... (sigh) And the French being the French, suddenly they started believing in it. Let's not forget they delivered a big game that day, and with all those litlle details, we fell short. It's a very bad memory. I can't wait to start over again, to make a fresh start. I'm trying to forget, but it crosses my mind again often.

- A lot of pundits, including in France, have criticized the refereeing of Wayne Barnes during this match...

- I know where you're getting at. But here it is : when we left for the World Cup, we knew there would always be external factors we could not control. And the referee is part of that. Whatever the quality of the referee, be he good or bad, whatever the quality of our opponents, we should have been strong enough to overcome it and prevail. It was our goal.

- We asked you this question already, on the night of the quarterfinal, but why not attempt a drop-goal at the end of the match?

- (smile) It's a question that comes up all the time since I came home. Of course I thought about it. During the match the idea came up often. But we were convinced we would manage to score by being true to our ways.

- Alright, but during all the trainings we watched during the World Cup, or before, not once have we seen you practice drop-goals collectively...

- (pause) You're right... (pause) Someone like Dan Carter, he's been kicking drop-goals for years, and I think that if one of our fly-halves[1] had been on the field at the end of the game, they could have made the right decision. That's the way it is. Nevertheless I’ll admit the drop-goal is a game element we never discussed as a team. Maybe it’s a mistake, collectively, we were all wrong about that. But it my heart I was sure we would make it by trusting our attack game. Either by scoring a try, either by pushing our opponent to a fault. During four years this is what worked for us, even in the tighter games, and a drop-goal was really not in our plans.

- Something to consider for the future maybe?

- For all my career I’ve never been in a team where we would sit around a table to say “This is how you score a drop-goal”. Maybe it’s time for our rugby to follow the example of other teams. We can’t be afraid to add new phases to our game.

- Do you think that the restrained style of rugby that prevailed during the last two weeks of the World Cup could put in question the rugby the All Blacks have been playing for four years?
- No. The style we played is the style that fits the New Zealand players. From 1 to 15 we have players who know how to play ball and aim to try things. Maybe in a World Cup where the stakes are so high, and the teams so cautious, we should lower our standards. But there’s no way we would change our philosophy : this is why we play rugby, because the game is spectacular, and this is what we enjoy.

- Did your view of the World Cup change after October 6th?

- I learnt that you need to keep the proper perspective. Should we forget all the great moments we had, all we accomplished in four years, because of one game? When you look at this, and you see a team like England who made it to the World Cup final after being trashed in the pool stages[1], it makes you wonder... It proves the World Cup is a special competition, where you need a stroke of luck to make it to the end. The World Cup is very important in itself. But if we focus our emotions only on it, we’ll never make it. If four years of success are judged on the outcome of one game, we, the players, will never be able to enjoy it. We’ll see what happens in 2011, but in the meantime we have to learn from this failure to become even stronger.

- While keeping in mind the memories of Cardiff?
- This memory will never leave me. Sometimes you need a fresh start, and in June, there’ll be a new squad of All Blacks, a new cycle beginning. If I keep obsessing about Cardiff I’ll never be able to move on. What matters is to draw strenght from it and to see to it that New Zealand rugby keeps improving. And that the All Blacks may remain as skillfull as they have been for the past four years.

[1] Both Carter and Evans were injured and McAlister was fly-half.
[2] South Africa beat England 36-0 in a pool game, then 15-6 in the final.

Translation by Cécile ; merci quand même à Emilie, Camelia et Sofy d'avoir proposer leur aide... Votre tour viendra! Quant à celles qui veulent le scan de l'interview par e-mail, je peux vous l'envoyer ( -sujet du mail "Scan l'Equipe de jeudi 18". Merci...

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