All Blacks: History won't repeat

(Rugby News Service) Wednesday 3 October 2007
All Blacks: History won't repeat
Moving on: Byron Kelleher is looking forward not back

CARDIFF, 3 October – History is something that no All Black can avoid. No All Black supporter, let alone player could forget the last time New Zealand's rugby heroes met France in a knockout match at a world cup.

When the two teams meet for their quarter-final on Saturday, the All Blacks hope to cast aside the memories of their 1999 Les Bleus defeat.

The two teams met in the semi-final of the 1999 IRB Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, England. On that day the All Blacks, tournament favourites, lost 43-31, despite controlling long periods of the match, and despite moments of individual brilliance from tournament hero, Jonah Lomu.

Although the players insist they do not dwell on past defeats, the scars run deep.

"I certainly carried some scarring from the mental aspect of what came out of the game and what it meant to the country," Byron Kelleher, srum half and 1999 team member said. "Heading back there and seeing the whole country in mourning - that is not a very nice feeling at all."

"We got mugged," Anton Oliver, hooker and 1999 team member, said. "It went so quickly. Once the wheels fell off we couldn't regain our composure and we were completely lost."

If 1999 was a mugging, Oliver says the All Blacks semi-final loss to Australia in the 2003 IRB RWC was a "slow strangulation" - all the more reason why the current New Zealand squad is determined to take home the Web Ellis Cup.

This squad maintain they are a different team. Buoyed by the experience of the veterans who fielded the historical losses, and reinvigorated by new players, the 2007 All Blacks want to erase the past.

"I watched it at home and it was heartbreaking," Leon MacDonald, full back, said of the 1999 semi-final loss.

"I think it is a timely reminder that we have to turn up and be right on top of our game... this is a different team, this is our time now."

"That (the 1999 game) is not going to affect what happens out there on the field, we just have to put it aside once the ball is kicked off."

Oliver said if he was still grieving after 1999 then he would get some "professional psychiatric help".

"As a player now we can only deal with the now… it is just the past, you have to move on."

RNS jf/ci/gs