By Howard Johnson
When England walk out onto the field to take on Argentina in their first World Cup match in Pool B on Saturday September 10 at the Otago Stadium in Dunedin it appears that it won’t just be the Pumas they’re taking on. By the sound of things Martin Johnson’s men will also be up against a New Zealand public that has never been particularly partial to the Red Rose, but who now reckon they’ve found a perfectly justifiable reason to hate them even more.
The cause of such a collective strop in the Land Of The Long White Cloud? England’s new change strip, which they’ve decided to wear in Dunedin. The problem? Well, it just so happens to be black. And black, you see, is the colour of New Zealand’s traditional rugby jersey.
“In some ways you’re just disrespecting the legacy of past players,” said All Black legend Jonah Lomu when England’s shirt manufacturer Nike revealed the change strip at the end of July. “The All Blacks are synonymous with being in all black, and England the white shirt they have. I will find it difficult to watch England in a different shirt."
Jonah, who is perhaps synonymous with being readily available with a quote on any old nonsense, seems a bit put out by this dastardly deed. My advice to Jonah, then, would be that he could always choose simply not to watch England if he’s genuinely worried that the colour of a shirt might spoil his evening. He might also want to consider getting a life!
But England flanker Tom Wood had a more eloquent response to this whole storm in a teacup when he succinctly pointed out that, “The All Blacks have worn white as their change kit and we haven’t said anything about that.” Wood was too polite to point out that the reason we haven’t said anything about the colour of New Zealand’s shirts is mainly because we couldn’t give a monkey’s what they do. But to prove the point that he wasn’t just making this stuff up, England’s renowned quality newspaper The Daily Telegraph helped out by printing a picture of none other than... Jonah Lomu rampaging against the Scots in what looked suspiciously like a white New Zealand shirt. Doh!
And talking of white shirts, it has come to my attention that France’s change strip for RWC 2011 bears more than a passing resemblance to England’s traditional home jersey. Knowing how much the French dislike ‘Les Rosbifs’ I suppose I should be outraged by this blatantly provocative act. I’ve actually got more important things to do, though, like counting sheep and sorting out my sock drawer.
Some New Zealanders have labeled England’s decision to wear black as nothing more than a cheap marketing gimmick designed to ruffle Kiwi feathers. After around one minute of detailed Internet research I must admit that I’m actually prepared to listen to this particular argument, because when it comes to cheap marketing gimmicks the New Zealanders certainly know their onions. After all, isn’t it a bunch of Kiwis, led by their ubiquitous one-time hooker Sean Fitzpatrick, who dreamt up the quite staggeringly useless publicity campaign from All Black sponsors Telecom Corp that urges the country’s adult population to give up sex for the duration of the World Cup?!
Promoted under the banner ‘Abstain For The Game’, participants were asked to wear a black rubber ring during the tournament to show their support for the movement. Whether it’s a ring for the finger or one for the midriff when kids go paddling in the sea wasn’t altogether clear, but what was blindingly obvious was how utterly appalling the whole idea was. The accompanying publicity video featured – and I’m not making this up – Fitzpatrick driving onto the screen in a flesh-coloured bumper car and dressed in a tuxedo to deliver lines like, “It’s people like you who are prepared to lie down and do absolutely nothing for six long weeks that will help this beautiful country of ours fulfill its destiny.”
To be fair, Fitzy looks like he’s subliminally apologising all the way through this disastrous affair. He clearly weighed up the money/dignity conundrum and came down on the side of cold, hard cash. I think, however, that his kids would rather starve! And talking of kids, surely population control in a country of just four million inhabitants really isn’t all that genius an idea! After all, where will the next generation of Small Blacks come from if no-one’s having sex in New Zealand? Though then again, if it reduces our chances of ever again being subjected to such crass, unfunny publicity stunts, then maybe we should get behind the campaign after all!
With this kind of nonsense to deal with you’d have thought New Zealand would have a lot more to worry about than the colour of England’s change shirt. But then again, just like Sean, poor old Jonah’s got to work too, hasn’t he?!
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