Rugby World Cup 2011
NZ PM: Poms are wannabes
John Key (File)
Wellington - New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key has described the England rugby team as "a bunch of wannabes" after they announced they would play at least one game in an all-black strip at the World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
England's decision has incensed New Zealand rugby fans who see it as a deliberate attempt to mimic the all-black strip worn by its national teams since 1874. The New Zealand rugby team has been known as the All Blacks since 1905.
England's Rugby Football Union said England will abandon their traditional white shirts for the September 10 pool meeting with Argentina, adding that their New Zealand counterparts had confirmed they have no problem with the switch.
But Key led a chorus of protests, saying "there's only one team that wears black with pride and that's the All Blacks."
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw played down the England decision on Saturday, though many former players expressed disappointment at what they saw as an attack on a New Zealand tradition.
World Cup-winning All Black Michael Jones described England's move as "psychological warfare." But McCaw said he was relatively unconcerned, even if it meant New Zealand might have to change from their all-black uniform if they play England in the final.
England plans to switch back to white for their remaining pool games but could break out the black again later in the tournament. The alternative shirt replaces the current gray jersey.
"If it comes down to what colour you wear determines how you play, then we've got trouble," he said. "That's the attitude we've got to have. What will be, will be. It would be nice to be in black, but if we're not, well, you just get on with it."
Keith Quinn, New Zealand's longest-serving rugby commentator, said England was "thumbing their noses at a New Zealand tradition."
"Of all the colours of the rainbow, why would they choose the color of the host nation?" he said.
New Zealand rugby fans took to social networking sites to express their anger at the colour change, warning the England team they face a hostile reception in New Zealand if they wear black.
A Facebook group called "Get Our Gear Off" was quickly established and contained the warning "if they try and steal our gear, they will not be welcome in New Zealand."
Group members posted photographs of the 1905 "Original" All Blacks, saying "these guys are turning in their graves." Other group members told England to revert to their traditional white jerseys and "take their flag back." The British Union Jack features on one corner of the New Zealand flag.
New Zealand have been forced at previous World Cups to change their jerseys to avoid perceived colour clashes with other teams. At the 2007 World Cup New Zealand lost a coin toss prior to their quarter-final against France, and were forced to change to a silver strip and went on to lose 20-18, their worst-ever World Cup performance.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew moved to reassure fans, saying England had told him of the colour change "as a courtesy" and assured him they would not force the All Blacks to wear white if the teams met at the World Cup.