Andy Haden opens a sewer

Andy Haden's comments about 'darkies' and racial quotas in the Canterbury rugby team brought out the predictable storm of denials, calls for his dumping at a sporting ambassador, and demands for evidence.

Bernie Fraser, the well known Wellington winger and former All Black, claimed that he also had been told that Canterbury operated a policy of no more than three Polynesians in the team, although like Haden, he didn't offer any sources or evidence for this.

Debates about quotas and "darkies' aside, the issue has quickly morphed into an examination of the state of rugby, and why the All Blacks haven't done that well lately.

Quietly, behind closed doors, among best mates, over a few pints, and in muttered tones, quite a lot of rugby followers have been saying for quite some time that there are too many Polynesians in the All Blacks,  and that this is bad because (it is variously claimed) they have no rugby brain, or no real brain at all, they can't follow  a plan, they can't behave off the field, they are all dash and dance and can't do the hard yards, and they change the character of the team.

The solution, according to this diagnosis, is more white guys, and fewer Islanders.  Maori players seem to be in a kind of limbo; sometimes condemned with the other brown (Pacifica) faces, but never quite seen to be as bad as players from the Pacific Islands.

Let me make it very clear that I do not share these sentiments. Apart from the inherent racism involved, I think that diagnosis of the ills of the All Blacks is wrong, but the views I have described are certainly held by many.

Few say it publically: one who did was a David J Robertson of Lyall Bay who in a letter to the DominionPost last Friday writes, "We will never have a World Cup winning All Black team as long as our selectors continue to select a side of predominantly dumb Polynesians."

I'd argue that the reasons for the poor performance of the All Blacks - and hence the rising level of apprehension about 2011 - is due to the competence of the All Black coaches, their selections, the decline of the Super 14 as a meaningful competition, too much rugby, the loss of key players overseas (coupled with our inability to bring them back), and rule changes that no one can understand or follow.

The Rugby Union has burned off many players, and alienated many fans. Personally I think the advance pressure of the World Cup next year is creating too much stress on rugby followers. We are in danger of beating ourselves even before the Poms, Ockers, Frogs and Yarpies get near us.

Haden's comments - accurate, appropriate or otherwise - simply brought all these issues to the surface.  His choice of words may be unpleasant, but racism and failure in rugby are subjects we take seriously. Combined they are a combustible brew. Haden has opened a sewer, and the smell he has let out is unpleasant and unwelcome.