Everyone knows that New Zealand rugby fans have high standards and great expectations. Three World Cup victories and decades of the All Blacks carrying the tag of the most feared team in all of sport have fostered such sentiment. According to Northampton Saints and England lock Courtney Lawes, however, the success of the team has also created downright arrogance among supporters.
In April, Lawes was selected by Warren Gatland to tour New Zealand as part of the British & Irish Lions squad. He made his first start for the tourists in the second game of their summer odyssey, when the Lions came unstuck against Super Rugby side the Blues. He subsequently missed out on the first Test against the All Blacks, which ended in a 30-15 defeat for Gatland’s men. But the 28-year-old put in two solid shifts when brought on as a substitute in the second and third Tests, helping the Lions to a 21-24 victory and a 15-15 draw that forced a series stalemate.
The final result may have been seen as anti-climactic by most, but Lawes seems happy, in retrospect at least, that he and his travel companions were able to prove themselves a match for the mighty All Blacks in the face of contempt from Kiwi fans and the country’s media.
“Being in New Zealand, we saw the arrogance that their fans have about their team,” Lawes recently told the Daily Mail. “It was eye-opening. The whole nation are into rugby and things their fans and commentators and pundits said about how we play and how New Zealand play – it was quite… interesting! If we’d listened to all that stuff, we’d have come home after the first weekend.”
“Any team is vulnerable,” he added. “New Zealand are the best team in the world, they have been for some time and you have to respect them.
“But every team has their strengths and weaknesses and any team can be beaten.
“We showed people that no matter what happens, you’ve got a chance. You can only respect the All Blacks for so long, then you just have to face the challenge.”
Lawes’ 2017/2018 club season didn’t get off to the best start, as his Northampton Saints were trounced by Saracens 55-24 in their opening Aviva Premiership game on September 2nd. The side rebounded in emphatic fashion on Saturday, however, claiming a rare victory over East Midlands rivals Leicester by a score of 24-11.