Is the rugby picture in New Zealand as black as it's sometimes painted? Is all the discontent justified? This "state-of-the-nation" look at New Zealand rugby after almost a decade of professionalism argues the case for optimism in the run-up to the World Cup. The book's central premise is that, despite some hiccups and speed-bumps, New Zealand rugby has made a good fist of the transition to professionalism and is in fact in pretty good shape, albeit a different shape from what it was in the good old days. It argues that the good old days are gone, that New Zealand is a very different country from what it was even 20 years ago, and that rugby cannot quarantine itself from society. Why, indeed, would a national sport want to do so? New Zealand rugby in 2003 reflects New Zealand in 2003, for better or for worse.
To see all change as being for the worse, to hark back selectively to a golden era without acknowledging the social and economic forces which have changed the face of New Zealand in the last two or three decades, is to ignore the widespread evidence that New Zealand rugby is in a fundamentally healthy state, particularly when compared with many of the other rugby-playing nations. Paul Thomas presents the facts about New Zealand in 2003, from the NZRFU boardroom to the school playing field, and undermines the myth of a game in decline. He describes a game which, while continuing to grapple with issues of professionalism, social change and intensified competition, is essentially in good heart and in good hands. He concludes that if we choose to ignore the gains and achievements and exaggerate the negatives, we run the very real risk that the mantra of doom and gloom will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.