Despite a highly successful year for British sport, Sean Fitzpatrick told our latest Laureus lunch that he can only foresee a New Zealand victory at Twickenham on Saturday – because the pain of defeat hurts too much. PHILIP BARKER reports. Pictures by TOM DULAT/Getty Images
It is still possible to count England’s rugby victories over New Zealand without using all the fingers of both hands. That is why Sean Fitzpatrick, the former All Blacks captain, was certain yesterday that there will be no repetition of last year’s stunning England victory at Twickenham this Saturday.
Speaking to a packed room at The Driver, the Kings Cross dining club, at the latest sporting lunch supported by Laureus, Fitzpatrick revealed a conversation he’d had with current skipper Ritchie McCaw this week. “December 1 2012 is etched in his brain and those of his colleagues who played in that game. ‘All I’m worried about is beating England,’ he told me.
“We love celebrating success but we remember our losses more than our wins,” Fitzpatrick said, recalling his own part in a rare All Blacks defeat in London 20 years ago.
“I have never forgotten 1993. I can still remember going back into the changing room and saying to the team: ‘Make a mental note of the way you feel now and make sure you never ever ever feel this way again’,” said Fitzpatrick, the latest ambassador of the Laureus World Sports Academy to join us for a lunch in 2013 as part of their sponsorship of the SJA.
Since winning the World Cup in 2011, the All Blacks have if anything got even stronger, Fitzpatrick said. They are unbeaten in 2013 and have recently completed a tournament win over Australia, South Africa and Argentina. But England’s victory 12 months ago has made Fitzpatrick more cautious.
“This time last year I said we’d beat England by 20 points. I’m not being so stupid this year. They’ll take heart from last year, a lot of these English guys played last year so that will give them a degree of hope. They’ll have the belief.
“Look back to England’s World Cup team, they had some great players, world-class players, but they played a pretty simple game. When they do that they can be dangerous.”
But Fitzpatrick believes England may need to score four tries to win this weekend.
“Its about taking them. To beat the All Blacks you have to be hugely physical. They don’t make mistakes, they build unbelievable pressure and their decision-making is phenomenal. At the moment, you have an All Black team that is making the right decisions.”
During his playing career, Fitzpatrick pulled on that famous All Black jersey on 92 occasions, a record for a forward. His assessment of just what it means offers little comfort to opponents.
“As New Zealanders we are shareholders in the All Blacks and we expect them to win. To be ranked the best team in the world year-in, year-out is the most important thing. In some build-up campaigns to World Cups, we’ve gone away from what the All Black jersey is all about in terms of trying to develop more players for the World Cup in two years’ time, whereas for me the next game is the most important game.
“Our vision in 120 years was to be the best rugby team in the world and our goal was to win every game we played and long may that continue.”
Such a philosophy is not so surprising. Sean’s father, Brian Fitzpatrick, or “BBJ”, was also an All Black and played in the famous defeat by Wales at the Arms Park in 1953. The result was a devastating one: “He never ever went back to Wales,” his son said.
Fitzpatrick now lives in England but there’s no question of split loyalties, beyond an admission that he hopes the All Blacks will face England in the 2015 World Cup final.
“It is possible with the draw, if everything goes to plan and it would make for a great final.”
Fitzpatrick was challenged by SJA chairman David Walker to emulate Laureus Academy member Sir Ian Botham’s latest charity walk in Sri Lanka, which at the last count had raised more than £135,000.
“There’s a little challenge for you there. What are you going to do next?” asked Walker.
“I’d never ever challenge Sir Ian Botham,” said Fitzpatrick. “Beefy going to Sri Lanka and walking for eight days, from North to South , to raise that amount of money is fantastic.”
- For more on the Laureus charity’s Sport for Good work, with sporting ambassadors and projects with poor and under-privileged children around the world, click here
- Between now and the end of 2013, anyone wishing to join the SJA may apply, with their initial fee covering their membership through until the end of 2014 – effectively 14 months’ membership for the price of 12. Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Thu Dec 12: SJA 2013 British Sports Awards. Bookings now open. Click here for details
Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced