The East Terrace
NZRU launch 'It's only a game' campaign
James Stafford
September 2, 2011
All Blacks head coach Graham Henry addresses his squad, New Zealand official team photo, Heritage Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, September 2, 2011
'Pay attention Richie': All Blacks head coach Graham Henry addresses his side ahead of their Rugby World Cup campaign © Getty Images

With just days remaining before the 2011 World Cup kicks off the New Zealand Rugby Union have launched a high profile campaign to remind the general public that rugby is 'only a game'.

The All Blacks' surprise failure in the Tri-Nations, alongside the ghost of repeated World Cup disappointments, has spurred the NZRU into a proactive attempt to dampen the public's expectations ahead of any potential failure to win the Webb Ellis trophy.

The campaign has been deemed so important that the All Blacks' management and players have delayed the start of their final training camp by a week to go door to door throughout New Zealand and personally speak with members of the public and ask them not to 'get too upset about what is, after all, just a game'. It is estimated the cost of the project will run into several million dollars.

Much to the chagrin of Kiwis everywhere the famous All Blacks have gained a notorious reputation for choking at the game's showpiece event. Every tournament from 1991 to 2007 has seen the men in black enter as favourites only to come unstuck when it matters. On each occasion the public has reacted with not only tears but also anger. Some financial experts even claim the failures damage the country's economy.

The 'It's Only a Game' campaign was kick started by an extraordinary press conference in Auckland on Thursday when head coach Graham Henry said that winning the World Cup would be 'very nice but of little overall importance in the grand scheme of life'.

The former British & Irish Lions, Wales and Auckland coach, who knows what it is like to be on the end of a public backlash after his team's shock failure at the 2007 World Cup, was keen to downplay the tournament's importance. "With what's happening around the world at present, can we really justify getting so worked up about a bit of footy? Sure, it would great fun to have a bit of silverware other than the Tri-Nations and the Bledisloe Cup in the cabinet, but if we fail to win anything is it really such an issue? What's important is we have our health and happiness. Nothing in rugby can buy that peace of mind. Besides, think of the extra security needed to ensure the cup was safe and sound. Do we really need that extra worry at present?"

Henry's statements were met with astonishment by the journalists in attendance and questions were asked about the squad's mental attitude if such a campaign was being considered, let alone enacted.

"Oh, we'll give it our best shot," answered Henry gently. "We'll really play our socks off and all, but the main thing is to have fun. We have our rugby friends from all over the world in our back yard and it would be a shame to focus so much energy and fuss on winning when what we should all be doing is making sure we have fun together off the paddock. Rugby can make you friends for life!"

Henry then went on to announce the schedule of his players and management team over the coming days. "Each player and manager is expected to knock on the doors of at least 100 homes a day and get into a friendly chat with the people they come into contact with. We want them to engage with the public and show their human side. That way the public will come to know the team as individuals and not just distant figures on television or on billboards.

"...the NZRU have refused to confirm or deny that they have reserved one way charter jets after each stage of the tournament's knock out stages for the entire playing squad and management."

"If, and as I said we really hope it doesn't come to this, if we fail to win the public will realise it was just a bunch of young lads doing their best and not get too worked up or anything. We've also printed up a series of pamphlets and stickers for the players to give to all those they chat with."

All the printed materials bear the slogan 'Rugby World Cup 2011 - Have fun and make friends in 2011 with YOUR friendly All Blacks'.

Meanwhile, the NZRU have refused to confirm or deny that they have reserved one way charter jets after each stage of the tournament's knock out stages for the entire playing squad and management. Some rumours even indicate that the destination for the flights have been listed as "As far as f****** possible from New Zealand".

Fate of Previous New Zealand World Cup Teams:

1991: After losing to Australia in the semi-finals by 16-6 the entire squad were only allowed back into the country after publically self-flagellating.

1995: An extra time defeat to first time entrants South Africa is blamed on food poisoning and, as a result, the New Zealand public forgive the runners up and direct their anger at the winners. The 1995 squad are the only All Blacks team to escape relatively unscathed from a World Cup failure.

1999: A shock comeback from France at Twickenham in the semi-final leads to 13 members of the Kiwi team being forced to remain in quarantine and/or solitary confinement for four months upon their return to native shores. Other players later complain of being victims of voodoo dolls.

2003: Another semi-final defeat to rivals Australia leads to half the squad suddenly disappearing from the public eye. To this day nothing is known of the fate of these players.

2007: After falling in the quarter finals to France the New Zealand public form lynch mobs and proceed to descend upon the homes of the players (still in Cardiff at the time) waving pitchforks and proceed to burn various properties to the ground.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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