Rugby World Cup diary: All Blacks controlling the message

9:43 am on 19 October 2019

Opinion - It's slowly dawning on us in Tokyo that Thursday might have been the last time Steve Hansen sat in front of us and announced a team.

All Blacks coaches Ian Foster and Steve Hansen.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen (R) and assistant coach Ian Foster (L). Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sounds blasphemous, but the reality of tonight is that it will be the abrupt end of a few careers regardless of who wins.

The All Black coach has dealt with that scenario being launched at him not only a few times this tournament, but throughout the 2019 season.

That's because he announced last year that it would be his last, meaning that the World Cup was either going to be the crowning glory of a decade of dominance or a return to the days of wondering where it all went wrong.

Hansen's not alone, because captain Kieran Read's time will be up with a loss too.

Mirroring that, Joe Schmidt is on his potential last ride as Irish coach as is long-serving skipper Rory Best.

Every time he's been asked, the All Black coach has simply swatted it off by saying he's not thinking about it and that it'll probably hit him once he's walked away.

But now it's for real. A game against Ireland in this quarterfinal weekend was always a possibility, it just hasn't come about the way everyone expected.

This was supposed to happen if the All Blacks had lost their opening game to the Springboks and the Irish had topped their group.

Japan simply making the quarters isn't quite the miracle a lot of people are saying, given Jamie Joseph's outrageous amount of control over the team's build up and big home ground advantage, but knocking over Ireland and being unbeaten so far is the story of the tournament so far.

That's what the coaches and players have been asked about, among a few other topics that just seem to float around the All Blacks.

If you've ever wondered where the stories that you read about the team come from, it's literally a 10-15 minute slot four days a week leading into a Test.

They set up a desk in a hotel conference room, everyone comes in about half an hour early to shoot the breeze, then whoever is up sits in front and fields a bunch of questions.

If it sounds monotonous, you'd be right.

Steve Hansen doesn't like giving anything away and if he's in a bad mood, the responses often end up being one or two words preceded with a sigh.

Ian Foster does his best with what is the worst time slot of the week, which is Tuesdays.

It's too late to talk about the game that's just gone and too early to talk about the team that's going to be picked, so it's mostly just a series of journalists trying to eke out clues.

Then there's the players. Some are good, a lot are terrible and some would rather be anywhere else.

Which is a shame and a bit surprising given the All Blacks' commitment to excellence everywhere else in their set up, especially because the need to sell their brand is paramount right now.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

Kieran Read. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Maybe they're just overawed about having to deal with sitting in a room full of mostly strangers, maybe there's a better way to do this.

It was telling the other day when Ardie Savea fronted the media, given that he's just launched his own podcast.

The in form flanker's foray into creating his own media channel is intriguing, given that he has the ability to get information out of his fellow players that you'd never normally hear in one of the dry press conferences.

I guess we can't complain too much, because World Cup regulations state that the All Blacks have to give more players than usual for media duties.

It's meant that over the last month we've got the same guys quite often, but also meant that Hansen and Foster have become increasingly frustrated with having to answer the same questions, with the latter breaking his good-natured run last Tuesday with a series of short answers to the mostly Irish media contingent.

Tensions are high, though. One NZ television crew were told to 'f**k off and make yourself scarce' for daring to film the outside of the All Blacks' training venue, despite the fact that the team weren't even on the field yet.

There's been a couple of other bits of pointless paranoia that have devolved into pathetic arguments before press conferences, and some completely unapologetic delays - much like the ridiculous two hour post match wait after the Eden Park Bledisloe Cup Test.

At the very least the All Blacks aren't really alone in that department for this World Cup.

The Irish impose pointless media embargoes, the Wallabies are apparently refusing all one-on-one interview requests, and the Japanese don't even bother to bring a translator to their press conferences and only have to put up players who have barely played in the tournament so far.

Everyone's trying to control the message. But it doesn't change the fact that there's only going to be half of them still talking next week.

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