August 17, 2011
England's black kit ruffled some feathers in the southern hemisphere but was it a complete non-event? © Getty Images
If it wasn't New Zealanders arguing that England should stick to white and not be allowed wear black it was Martin Johnson trying to tell us that black was in fact white. The reality is that he is still wearing rose coloured spectacles (I hope I am not offending anybody by associating England with rose - you have to be so careful with colours these days).
First, the non-issue of England's change strip for the World Cup. Only the New Zealanders could complain about the colour another country chooses for its alternative shirt and, by the way, this is not an optional extra - every country has to have one.
I cannot believe they really think they have a monopoly on the colour black so I can only put it down to a huge inferiority complex. There were no complaints when Wales chose black as their second strip so perhaps, deep down they actually fear England.
There will always be daft zealots but this seems to be a national disease with normally sensible people joining the bandwagon. What if every other country treated the colour of their national jersey with such reverence?
I can understand old players like Bryan Williams, now the President of the NZRU, and Jonah Lomu being over-protective of 'the jersey' although, knowing them both, I suspect they were ambushed into giving a quote and don't really believe it is a case of 'disrespecting the legacy of past players' as was quoted.
I can even forgive the veteran commentator, Keith Quinn, - I swear he wears an All Blacks jersey to bed instead of pyjamas - but only in New Zealand could the Prime Minister become involved. 'There's only one team that wears black with pride and that's the All Blacks,' said John Key.
What nonsense! Every player wears his national jersey with pride whatever the colour but he has missed the point completely.
The 'change' jersey is there in case there is a clash in colours so black is the obvious choice for England but there are other more mundane factors to be considered.
White is not a great colour for the fans. One small spill of beer as you get over-enthusiastic about some thrilling attack - admittedly unlikely with England playing as they are at the moment - and you look a mess for the rest of the day. Black is much more forgiving and a straw poll amongst my England supporting mates has already established it will be a 'must have' item when they pack for New Zealand.
Black has always been a great colour for casual wear and the new replicas will certainly outsell that strange purple that somehow became associated with England.
I know of at least one New Zealander who will not be joining the 'it's a national insult' clamour. Colin Meads, perhaps the most iconic All Black of them all, would have had England in black years ago.
I interviewed him for a film I was making at the first World Cup in 1987 - when New Zealand were streets ahead of the rest of the world in terms of rugby development - and threw in a final question asking what the northern hemisphere sides needed to do to catch-up.
He had no hesitation when it came to England. 'First, I'd get them out of those poofy white uniforms,' he said. 'How can you play rugby wearing white with a rose on your chest?
If only Johnno's problems were limited to what colour to wear. He looks increasingly embattled and at the moment resembles the mother watching her soldier son at a passing out parade who yells, 'Well done Jonny, you're the only one in step.'
I have been just one of the many voices trying to convince him that he has to be more radical in his selection - always the most important part of a national coach/manager's job but he is as stubborn as a mule.
He was interviewed before the match by his old World Cup winning team-mate (and good pal) Will Greenwood. Will was being particularly deferential - I guess that was part of the deal - but, being a former centre, he did raise (delicately) the matter of the mid-field selections and Shontayne Hape in particular.
Johnno's answer proved once and for all he is in total denial. Listening to it back afterwards I could hardly believe my ears as he shrugged off criticism of Hape as 'a bit of a fad' and defended him describing him as a 'clever player' who offered a huge amount in terms of line breaking, distribution and defence.
Then, after another performance that was universally panned - Hape lost the ball in contact, did not make one line break and was given a torrid time by the Welsh centres, he hid behind the same old platitudes - we'll go back and work on things and we'll put it right before we leave.
Sorry Johnno, your loyalty is admirable but your judgement is poor. You cannot go on claiming black is white any longer - just pray that Manu Tuilagi stays fit and learns quickly.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh