great to good: nz rugby

The inexplicable has happened - again! Going into their fourth straight World Cup rugby tournament as overwhelming favourites NZ's All Blacks were yesterday knocked out, this time earlier than ever before. If the inexplicable keeps happening when will it cease to be called inexplicable?

My mind goes to the Good to Great book by Jim Collins. He surveys 1400+ companies in the search of a recipe for greatness in leadership. He finds it far from the madding crowd ... in about 10 leaders who have a "compelling modesty" and a "fierce resolve". Personal humility and personal resilience seem to be the key.

My mind returns to NZ, our rugby, our All Blacks ... and this ability to stumble from greatness into goodness.

I wonder - is there not something lacking in the 'compelling modesty' department? I now find myself wincing at the arrogance that NZers bring to their passion for rugby. We do not tend to respect the opposition. One TV station's average score from viewers before the French game was 43-8! Maybe the reason why we see so much arrogance in the English is because there is so much arrogance in us about the way we view our place in the game?
We may not have an arrogance borne out of our dominance of the world stage (like we see so often in the Americans, for example) - but there is one that can emerge out of our insignificance on the global stage. When we 'box above our weight', it is exciting for us and we want to make sure everybody knows about it. Gee - this can so easily morph into the wrong kind of pride (that diminishes others!) as we become the sheep that roared from our little home in our comma on the bottom of the global page.
While I realise that many find the passionless, staunch, inarticulate, and lets-be-the-only-team-not-to-sing-our-anthem persona of our sportsmen to be an expression of compelling modesty, I am far from convinced. I find the winsome and gracious and animated persona so frequently displayed by our sportswomen far more compelling and authentic in its modesty.

I wonder - is there not something lacking in the 'fierce resolve' department? Huge criticism is about to be heaped on the 'reconditioning' and 'rotational' policies of the coaches. Those two words are going to need some couch-time to recover their place in the Kiwi vocabulary - a bit like the hammering Lord of the Rings gave to poor little "precious".
But how is it that rugby league players can play up to three games in a week, while our elite rugby union players have struggled to play ten full games in eight months? Where is the physical toughness and resolve in that fact?
Then the reality behind the 'inexplicable' is that we are deficient in some sort of mental resolve as well. The rest of the rugby world speaks of us as 'chokers'. Maybe we do freeze. Maybe we are the possum stuck in the headlights. Maybe we do struggle with the professional era. Rugby is not the only Kiwi sport that struggles here. Look at golf!
And it is not just physical and mental resolve ... to hear the coach say that France had more passion than the All Blacks. WOW! Really? After three early exits from World Cups and in our first knock-out game in this tournament ... and the All Blacks were out-passioned by the opposition? Where is the emotional resolve? Maybe we could start by learning to sing our anthem like the Portugese sing theirs?!

Like so many Kiwis I feel gutted. Knowing I couldn't drive back from Wellington in time, I spent the night in Room 88 in the Safari Motel in Taihape and watched the match on my own. Ugh! I'll get over it, knowing that God's mission in the world is far more concerned with other inexplicabilities ... but wouldn't it be great if we allowed this experience to build more modesty and resolve into our national psyche? It might make us even more useful in God's hands as well.

nice chatting



Mark Maffey said…
Sacre Bleu! Madre Dios! Or to put it in the Aussie/NZ vernacular Bugger! For me the interesting aspect of all this is that we show more passion for our "national game" than we do for Christ. As was wryly observed at our Church we were easily able to turn up to watch Rugby at Church as a community, yet struggle to get a 10th of the commitment to praying.

Micah 6:8 to me is the seminal verse in regard to the puffery, the expectation, and lack of modesty shown in many predictions pre-game, myself included.NLT - No,O people,the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires to do what is right, to love mercy, and to WALK HUMBLY with your God.

The challenge we face is to live in the light of Christ's example (John 13:1ff, Philippians 2:1-11) being prime verses, let us not consider ourselves great, yet let us learn how to serve.
fuctifano said…
Greetings from UK. This fantastic blog post transcends your national rugby grief. I would have maybe come on here to crow about your team of chokers but your blog post is fundamental, simple, and accurate. Congratulations. It should have a wider readership than a blog.
ryan said…
Spot on Paul. On the pride note, the words of the new haka make me cringe every time I read them. Maybe a pre-game challenge isn't the place for modesty, but

Feel the power!
Our dominance rises
Our supremacy emerges
To be placed on high!

... might be going a bit far.
Paul said…
Ahh Ryan ... how good to hear from you, working as a Kiwi in an undisclosed city in South Asia. I have a photo of you by the automatic transmission in my car - so I am thinking and prasying for you pretty often!

This post sure did shut everybody up. Do you think I've offended good Kiwi people?!

Oh dear - never mind. I am working on my thoughts for the next post and then we can all move on :)

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