Rugby Was The Winner On The Day

Rugby may be New Zealand's national game and the All Blacks revered with fervour by many kiwis but when it comes to inspiring songwriters the Men in Black seem to stimulate more hackneyed cliches than lyrical grace. In recent years Steve Edwards and Tommie Brewster have both made musical attempts to place the All Blacks on a pedestal. In both cases banality and stereotypes are to the fore - 'the land of the long white cloud' comes up in both, there are plenty of exultations of belief that "you can bring it home" (the World Cup that is), and in Steve Edwards' Men in Black, even Ed Hillary and the spirt of the Anzacs are invoked. Meanwhile, with it's "humouress" French / Kiwi lyrics and cheesy synths, Tommie Brewster's 'Sweetaz Mon Ami', which was released on the eve of last year's ill-fated All Black World Cup attempt, is a serious contender for worst song of all time. UPDATE: Tommie contacted me and took my criticism in very good humour. Tommie Brewster had a hit with Sweetaz Mon Ami - over 5000 copies sold! So what would I know.

Some of the better songs about rugby and the All Blacks come about when the songwriter is taking a critical rather than hagiographic stance. In 1960 Howard Morrison recorded 'My Old Man's An All Black', a local take on Lonnie Donegan's 'My Old Man's A Dustman'. While the Morrison version retains the comedy of the original the new lyrics also critique the decision to take an All Black team with no Maori on tour to South Africa at the request of the South African Rugby Union. This is probably New Zealand's first protest record.

Protest was also the theme of two songs about rugby released in the mid 1980s. This was a time of pre-professional rugby (when the emphasis was on being the best team rather than the biggest brand) and the game's image had taken a huge hit in the aftermath of the violence and conflict of the 1981 Springbok tour. A proposed tour of South Africa by the All Blacks in 1985 prompted Don McGlashan and Chris Knox to pull together a band of musicians to record a single as Left, Right and Centre. The song was a straight forward plea (with a reggae lite beat) to the government and the NZ Rugby Union, 'Don't Go'. Punk band No Idea released their rugby song in the same year. Their's was a more general poke at a macho rugby culture of violence and loutishness titled 'Rugger Bugger'. It can be found on the Class War EP released on Jayrem Records. (Their 1983 cassette Wotsoever can be downloaded from NZ Punk Vinyl)

One rugby song of recent years that is worth a listen is the Matakanui Mens Choir's 'God Defend The All Blacks' (There is great clip for the song on the video page). A simple but stirring listing of legendary All Blacks to the tune of God Defend New Zealand the song achieves what 'Sweetaz Mon Ami' so miserably fails, to balance a love of the game and the team with a tongue in cheek poke at the reverence with which the All Blacks are regarded.

It was a game of two halves, but rugby was the winner at the end of the day.

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