All Black myopia comes back to bite NZ Rugby

3:09 pm on 22 August 2021

Comment: If you ever go to an All Black press conference, you find out pretty quickly that all they ever want to talk about is the game they are about to play.

All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown and Ardie Savea.
New Zealand All Blacks media conference in Hamilton, New Zealand on Thursday 15th July 2021.

Ardie Savea, right, pictured alongside Anton Lienert-Brown has been the only All Black to admit that months away from home might cause ructions in his household. Photo: © Andrew Cornaga / Photosport Ltd 2021

"We're only focused on Saturday", "all we can control is what's in front of us" and the enduring "we just take it one game at a time" are key soundbites that effectively shut down any sort of conversation, be it with coach or player alike.

Admittedly, it works most of the time. It flattens out the debate into a one-way channel towards kickoff, which then funnels into a post-match discussion all about said game, then you start all over again on the Monday.

It reached ridiculous levels in the leadup to the second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park, when the captain's run media opportunity not only fell on the anniversary of the first ever All Blacks v Springboks game 100 years prior, but also at exactly the same time that historic game kicked off.

Sam Whitelock did have some nice words to say about the long rivalry, but admitted that it was difficult to think about the Springboks in a week they were playing against the Wallabies.

It shouldn't really be that hard for a player who has faced the Springboks 20 times over the past decade, but it really came as no surprise.

Captain Sam Whitelock at the All Blacks squad Announcement for the Steinlager Series Tests against Fiji and Tonga.

Stand-in captain Sam Whitelock has played plenty of matches against the Boks during his lengthy All Blacks' career. Photo: PHOTOSPORT/ Andrew Cornaga

But that wasn't the main issue. For the previous fortnight the Covid-19 situation in Australia had meant that it wasn't too much of a stretch to see the rest of the All Black season being played offshore, with that possibility being presented to the All Blacks in every media opportunity.

It was a fair question to ask of the players, especially the ones with families and those who had played for the previous three seasons and the elongated campaigns that came with them.

All of it was met with the same response, aside from Ardie Savea off-handedly admitting his wife would be annoyed. The team will do what they have to. They will play where they had to play. They would be away from home for as long as it would take because being an All Black is their job.

The problem though, is that with the latest development in The Rugby Championship Saga II - remember last year - means the single-minded approach is completely at odds with NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson's decision to pull the All Blacks out of travelling to Perth this weekend in preparation for this season's third and final match against the Wallabies.

In an interview on Newstalk ZB, Robinson outlined the reasons for the call, citing the lack of clarity for what happens after the Perth test as the reason for their hesitancy.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

But we'd been asking them that for the better part of a month beforehand, so maybe simply letting the players tell the truth might have been a better idea, especially when Robinson admitted the All Blacks could have indeed travelled to Perth this weekend and trained all week in preparation for the test.

No one really would have minded the men with families saying they didn't want to go, or that another three and a half month trip abroad was not what they signed up for at the start of this season.

It was telling that when questioned about the Rugby Players' Association's involvement in the decision, Robinson completely deflected it, clearly not willing to give an inch to Rob Nichol in the ongoing Silver Lake negotiations.

The most annoying thing about this is that NZR's plan to shift the Rugby Championship to Europe which has caused all this angst between them, Rugby Australia and SA Rugby, is actually a pretty good idea.

The 100th test between the All Blacks and Springboks will be given a fitting venue and if a decent revenue sharing agreement can be reached, it will benefit everyone due to Twickenham being able to hold an 82,000 strong crowd. But NZR is in such a spot right now that virtually everything they do at a macro level is being endlessly scrutinised by the media and public who distrust NZR.

The tunnel vision shown by the players over the last month clearly hadn't put Robinson in any sort of position to be able to credibly say what he said on Saturday.

Last weekend NZR was in the gun for not putting in enough effort to sell tickets to Eden Park but now it's clear that effort is needed to sell their ideas as well.

*Jamie Wall is a freelance sports journalist and author of five books, including The Hundred Years' War: All Blacks v Springboks. While his best playing days are long behind him, he can still be found battling it out on an Auckland rugby field every Saturday.

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