All Blacks show there is still a place for grace in defeat

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The Times sports columnist Matthew Syed, a former table tennis international for England who knows the ups and downs to be experienced in sport, said the anguish in the eyes of the New Zealanders was clear. They understood the effect the loss would have on their country.


"And yet there was not (as far as I could see) the merest hint of rancour in the way they encompassed defeat.


"They walked as a group towards the sideline and, as they have done throughout this magnificent competition, bowed in unison to the assembled spectators. They gave England a guard of honour, not clapping grudgingly but with respect.


"There was a poignant moment between Ardie Savea and Billy Vunipola, the men embracing.


"At the post-match press conference, the same dignity was in evidence. Steve Hansen, the New Zealand head coach, did not offer excuses or recriminations or criticism," he said.

Syed said it had almost become acceptable to greet defeat not with grace but rancour because that was said to show how much you cared.


"Bitterness and recrimination are said to reveal a winning mentality. I remember at one table tennis competition a defeated player left the arena without shaking the hand of his opponent. His father was genuinely pleased. 'It shows how much he wanted to win,' he said.


"This dubious policy seems to be growing ever more prevalent. Football is by no means alone in this but one cannot help noticing how often defeat is met not with grace but with excuses, criticism of referees, and sundry attempts to pass the buck.


"The problem isn't just that this has become tolerated but normalised. Acrimony has become part of the dubious post-match theatre, essential to the modern game.


"Rugby is not a perfect sport, and the All Blacks are not a perfect team but doesn't the aftermath of Saturday's contest reveal that striving to win and graciously accepting defeat are not mutually exclusive?


"Since they first played in 1903, the All Blacks have won 79.2 percent of all Tests and have a positive record against every opponent.


"They are serial winners – but that does not inhibit them from being dignified losers. Indeed, doesn't the one inform the other?"


Syed said in spite of what happens in Friday's bronze medal game, the All Blacks will be disappointed with their World Cup but he expected them to rise again.


"It is in the rubble of our failures that we can often find the seeds of future grown. Resilience, in this sense, is not an emotion, still less a talent, but the maturity to face up to defeat, to own it, and to rebound," he said.


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