It's fair to say that the Lowy Institute is not a bastion of rabid rugby supporters. And for the most part that doesn’t matter, but when you're talking trans-Tasman relations, you know nothing if you don’t know rugby. And I’ve stuck my head in enough rucks and mauls to recognise a rugby conspiracy when I see one. My colleagues here all think the Barnaby Joyce citizenship issue is about politics but if you have a keen understanding of the New Zealand rugby mindset you’ll understand that this is all about sport.
The evidence is overwhelming if you only pick up on the indicators. And I’ll give it to them, those Kiwis pick their marks well and have used the Australian Labor Party's lack of rugby nous to their advantage. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (a Victorian) and Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong (a South Australian) most likely couldn’t tell the difference between a Gilbert and a Sherrin, and wouldn’t understand the significance of this Saturday. But every New Zealander (and the shrinking rugby supporter base in Australia) will tell you that it’s the first game of the Bledisloe Cup, and New Zealand is nervous about losing its rugby lustre. Smarting from a loss to Ireland last year for the first time in its history and a drawn series against the British and Irish Lions, Wellington is resorting to every dirty trick in the rugby book (which, incidentally, they wrote).
So they’ve activated their sleeper agents to play merry hell with the Australian psyche by attacking the highest ranked rugby players in the land by claiming one of them as their own. For if he's nothing else, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is a rugby man through and through, as is the PM himself. Penny Wong’s chief of staff, who allegedly kicked off this diplomatic scuffle by tipping off a New Zealand parliamentarian about Barnaby Joyces’s Kiwi antecedents is, surprise, surprise, a New Zealander.
Concern about the Deputy PM's nationality must have been known for some time, not least by the New Zealand government (the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service presumably has a standing task to weaken Australian rugby; it has been pretty successful but one can’t rest on one’s laurels). So why then should this have come to light the very week that the game is being played, rather than two weeks, or two months ago ? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the thing that puts New Zealand on the world map is rugby, and New Zealanders will do everything in their power to retain their rugby primacy. They think they’ve got their throat on the Wallabies necks and they want to push down even harder.
And don’t think it’s just labor parties passing on gossip in some kind of fraternal swap. For the Kiwis it’s a national effort to tear down Australia’s rugby supporter base, starting from the very top. The New Zealand PM gave the game away when he admitted he was informed about the Australian deputy PM’s citizenship confusion last week, yet called a press conference to announce the findings this week, in advance of the big game. If the Kiwis have infiltrated the Australian shadow foreign minister’s office and NZSIS has scoured citizenship records to play merry hell with the Australian government (probably using a cut-out to pass the incriminating information onto the Fairfax press), what do they know of the Wallaby game plan? Talk about winning the trans-Tasman mind games.
And if you think I’m exaggerating the duplicitousness of those people with the funny accents, look no further than the revelations about how the All Black management delayed telling the police about a 'bug' found in their hotel room until the day of the Bledisloe Cup game last year. I could go on and on about the men in black; Richard Loe’s low blow on Paul Carozza (at 1:40 in this clip) or the appalling and unpunished spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll (at 1:30 in this clip). And who could forget Colin Meads' horrendous act of violence that prematurely ended Wallaby great Ken Catchpole’s career in 1968?
I think after the events of this week we can say with some degree of certainty that New Zealand has not only inherited the British system of government and its monarch, it appears to have also inherited its penchant for perfidy.