Do Kiwi hearts still beat for the black jersey?

12:11 pm on 28 October 2015

Are we all as rugby mad as we're made out to be?

All Black lock Brodie Retallick scores the first try of the match during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final against France in Cardiff.

All Black lock Brodie Retallick scores the first try of the match during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final against France in Cardiff. Photo: AFP

Rugby union has been a part of New Zealand life since the 1870s. It began playing on the international stage within two decades, while the name "the All Blacks" surfaced in the early 1900s.

In 1920, then-MP Leonard Isitt said it was New Zealand's national game and suggested parliament should take two hours off to watch the All Blacks play.

But a new survey at Auckland University found only 37 percent of participants said the Rugby World Cup had any personal importance to them.

Nearly two thirds of the 197 people surveyed said they were making little or no effort to follow the Rugby World Cup, and many thought the sport was over-represented in the news media.

The survey was also carried out in 2007 and 2011, where it attracted a similar number of participants - 131 and 267 - but in those years, more people said they cared about the sport than this year.

In Wellington, Radio New Zealand sampled the feeling on the streets.

One woman said: "[It's] seriously overdone. I looked in our local paper today, looking for Lydia Ko who's just regained the world number one spot. I couldn't find anything about her.

"But even though the All Blacks haven't played a game in the last two days, there were pages and pages and pages on the All Blacks."

It was much the same on the television and radio, she said.

Another said: "Of course they're like our country's great pride. We respect them and we want to back them in our international sport, but I feel like it's to the point they take up all of our sporting glory."

New Zealand Festival director Shelagh Magadza said she was surprised the number of people taking an active interest in the tournament was so low, but she believed for better or worse rugby had been forged into the national psyche.

"Everybody needs good stories, we all need to hope and believe in things."

Understanding the game was like a common language which could break down barriers, Ms Magadza said.

"You're not as able to discuss with any man on the street a fantastic violin concerto, as you are the rules of rugby," she said.

"In that way, it becomes difficult to join in the ownership and celebration of those artists."

Rhodes scholar Andrew Dean, who wrote Ruth, Roger and Me, said there was a public value to rugby -- it united New Zealanders, and the success of the All Blacks was something to celebrate.

But he said there was another side to rugby's synonymity with the All Blacks: if we focussed on just the success of the All Blacks at the expense of other sports, including female-dominated sports such as netball, "it does promote a masculinist version of what New Zealand can be".

"I think that there's room for a broader interest in how New Zealand performs on the international stage."

But he said the game had strong roots.

"Being a national sport is more than just people playing it, of course.

"I think it's made up of more things and one of those things is, undoubtedly, history and involvement in local communities of which the All Blacks, or rugby, has a very long history and its involvement in communities is undoubtedly really strong."

But the All Blacks' hero status was not guaranteed, Mr Dean said. With the predominance of pay television, they would need to work hard to maintain it.

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