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Alistair Campbell
Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ali C Emerges From The Long Grass
10 October 2007, 10:38 am
By Chris Byrne
Ever wonder why English national sides, no matter what sport it is, never seem to get the support they deserve from their nearest neighbours ? Well throw an eye over the article on Page 8 of last weekend's Sunday Times and you might get an idea.
It's a fairly gloating account of why the rugby world should rejoice at the defeat suffered by the All Blacks in this World Cup and is penned by Alastair Campbell who was Press Consultant, not so much to the Lions, but to Sir Clive Woodward, for the duration of the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand.

Campbell basically devoted an entire page in last Sunday's paper glorying in the defeat of the All Blacks while at the same time exposing the bitterness he has harboured for the past two years since he visited with his errant Knight.

The problem was that he went out there as canny Campbell, the Labour spimeister and came back as comical Ali after in his own words, "failing spectacularly to make friends with the British and Irish media or with the New Zealanders." Now that in itself is a fairly difficult task to achieve. Team media liaisons are normally fairly amicable types whose very existence depends on them being affable, co-operative knowledgeable and friendly. And for anyone involved in that business to manage what Ali C did, well, takes some doing.

Yes of course it's possible for any press officer to hack-off a journo or two. But an entire press corps, never mind a 4 million + population ? Well, put it this way, it sorta puts you on the hind tit. Or put another way, if that was your disposition then the 'Phone a Friend' option wouldn't be a huge advantage to you on Who Wants To be a Millionaire.

Mind you he got on great with Sir Clive. And the players. Best buddies in fact with some of them. And still is, as he is wont to remind us at every given opportunity.

But it was the accursed media and the New Zealanders who just didn't understand what he was about. And for over two years as the Blacks carried all before them, he was forced to lurk in the long grass. Bide his time. Even tougher still, bite his tongue.

The French victory gave his chance and in the article basically he accuses the All Blacks of being arrogant, of press-ganging players from the Islands, of being bad winners, looking down on lesser mortals; of having spent a fortune on the campaign and then of being gutted when they were beaten and of course, of blaming the referee for their defeat.

Mind you, he says he admires the mentality of the New Zealand public, "I love people with winning attitudes," yet quite clearly cannot hide his delight at their failure, "after three years of absolute dedication to the cause." Again he seems to take particular pleasure that so many New Zealanders paid out large sums to attend the semis and final only !

Now Ali C have I got news for you. First off the New Zealanders, by and large, are ordinary, decent hard working people. Those supporters you deride probably spent a long time and made many sacrifices to get themselves over for the the knock-out stages and to mock them as you did is nothing short of shameful and does you no credit.

As for the All Blacks ? They arrived in France longs odds on favourites to win the World Cup and deservedly so after dominating the game for the past three years. England arrived as no-hopers and deservedly so after performing like donkeys since they won the World Cup in 2003.

Yes the All Blacks squad contain players of Fijian, Tongan, Samoan ancestry but what about the current England squad with players from South Africa (Stevens, Catt, Abendanon), New Zealand (Freshwater) and Kenya (Shaw). A fair few of the Scottish squad are from England while Dan Parkes was born in Australia, Nathan Hines in Australia and John Barclay in Hong Kong. And I might add the names, Easterby and Boss are not exactly commoner garden around Mullingar.

And when you castigate the All Black management for 'taking 22 of their top players out of the Super 14', you conveniently forget that one of the reasons given for Sir Clive moving on was that the top English players would not be available to him for long enough because their clubs were not prepared to release them. The resolve to the recent PRL/RFU dispute involved the issue of player availbility for international duty.

Nearer to home the question of how many Magnets League games our internationals should or shouldn't play rages because the IRFU adopt a similar stance to the NZRU.

And of course Campbell is highly indignant at the way New Zealanders have blamed referee Wayne Barnes for the defeat. He bases this particular criticism, God help us, on website forum traffic !! and ?, Oh yes, and the comment from Jake Hobbs that some decisions were very, very questionable.

" I think there were a lot of factors involved in New Zealand not winning that game and one of them was some issues with refereeing and touch-judging But to blame him (Wayne Barnes) for the loss is completely wrong." Now that quote is not from a website or from Jake Hobbs. It's from IRB referee guru Paddy O'Brien who goes on to identify three key decisions, "There was clearly the forward pass that was missed by all three officials and the referee must take responsibility for that." he said. "There were two calls," he continues, "one with a hand in the ruck and one with offside at a ruck in the last ten minutes, which the touch judge should have given him."

He might also have mentioned the penalty award at the close of the opening half with the All Blacks leading 13-0. Barnes played advantage and when no advantage accrued what normally happens, well, didn't.

So that particular stick that Campbell wields doesn't actually get a ringing endorsement from the authorities

Ali C's powers of perception are quite extraordinary evidenced by incidents two years apart. "What I noticed about the all Blacks two years ago is that they were bad winners." he tells us in the fourth last (thankfully) paragraph. And this time around, from the comfort of his TV room in the long grass, he noticed that " as they warmed up for the French match a large part of their minds was already on the semi and the final. "

What. Did they not do their normal pre-match drill ? Were they high-fiving each other before the kick-off ? Were they over on the touchline chatting amicably with loved ones, with friends ?

Please don't tell me they didn't perform the Haka ?

What was it that the eagle eyed Ali spotted that no-one else did.

One of the charges laid against him by the awful media during his tracksuited tour of duty with the Lions was that he had no feel for and knew nothing about the game. The media case rests m'Lord.

You don't have to be immersed in rugby to applaud England's achievement in reaching this final. It is a fantastic sporting achievement made all the more laudable by the circumstances. They were in the doldrums, riven with injury and unlike their final opponents, have had to contend with two of the big powers, Australia and France, to reach the final. It is almost beyond comprehension that they have managed to drag themselves to Saturday's conclusion and they deserve our total admiration for their Munster-like feat.

And as our near neighbour northern hemispherians we should be giving them our whole hearted support.

However, it is the mean mindedness displayed in that article that will have people up this neck of the woods roaring, Go on the Boks on Saturday evening. What a shame.

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