You’ve got to feel sorry for the Blues.
That’s not the outrageous demand it once was.
In fact, pity seems to be very much the national sentiment when it comes to New Zealand’s lone failing Super Rugby franchise.
Even in South Canterbury – not traditionally a place from which empathy and love towards the city of sails flows – they’re feeling a twinge of compassion. A recent conversation with a chap born and raised in Temuka confirmed this unprecedented happening.
“Man. Those Blues,” he said.
Things, then, are bad. Very bad.
So bad that even Dean Anderson has long since given up hating them.
If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, that’s because Anderson’s brief moment of fame was 20 years ago, when his eight-year-old self got all bent out of shape about how annoyingly good Auckland and the Blues were at rugby, and made himself a sign declaring “I hate you Auckland”.
John McCombe’s iconic picture of the cherubic Anderson expressing such strong disdain for a city that had long subjugated the country solely through its awesomeness at rugby sparked a minor national outrage about how we were raising our minors.
There were calls for Anderson to be banned from the stadium. And sent to bed with no pudding.
“I [also] hated brussels sprouts, and I hated peas,” a 24-year-old Anderson explained when tracked down in 2013.
“It (hate) was just a word that you chucked around for anything. It wasn’t a ‘set-fire-to-Aucklanders’ type thing.”
But, in the times of Canterbury crowds booing Carlos Spencer during All Blacks tests, the burning of Aucklanders – or at least effigies of them – in the streets felt like it was coming next.
Fortunately for national unity, Auckland rugby began a steady decline, easing tensions that had threatened to boil over into strong words and ‘wan*&^’ gestures.
Such was Auckland’s descent from the heights of invincibility and on past mediocrity into the depths of irrelevance that, by 2013, even Anderson had given up any thoughts of dousing a papier-mâché Mark Carter with lighter fuel.
Anderson did not clarify whether in fact he’d grown to enjoy brussels sprouts. However, it was pretty clear he could no longer be arsed despising a rugby team that hasn’t upset anyone for years.
That was almost five years ago.
In the intervening period, Auckland’s misery has been compounded by their rivals’ success: every other NZ Super Rugby franchise has won a Super Rugby title since 2013.
In an era when North Harbour can capture the Ranfurly Shield, Tasman can challenge for domestic supremacy, Buller can make a Meads Cup final and even the sodding Hurricanes can win something, the Blues aren’t just bad. They are pretty much the only bad rugby team in the country.
And there’s no real prospect of that changing.
With back-to-back World Cup triumphs to the All Blacks debunking the myth that ‘for New Zealand rugby to be strong, Auckland must be strong,’ there’s no national good-inspired reclamation project in the wind.
There’s nothing left to cling to.
If Dean Anderson was to take a sign to a Blues match today, it would likely say: “Auckland, well, sh*&… c’mon guys”.
Things are so bad that it’s conceivable Auckland may never be hated again. That’s tragic.