Get Hurricanes Rugby coach Chris Boyd drunk off his face then and he’ll probably tell you exactly what he really thinks of Steve Hansen and NZR (NZ Rugby). But then so might a lot of others not within the inner-sanctum of the All Blacks.
Is the altogether control, favouritism and selectivity from the top becoming just a bit too Orwellian? Last week revealed news of the apparent gulf in how often Steve Hansen communicates with Boyd (he doesn’t), and the Crusaders’ Scott Robertson (rather often). That alleged discrepancy in comms doesn’t sound particularly surprising when one delves into a few more inconsistencies and double standards from our rugby overlords over the past several seasons.
To begin with, because brand All Blacks represents their core business and greatest revenue stream, NZR have already, and will likely continue to, stop at almost nothing in attempts to increase the influence and reach of their number one commodity (do not be in any doubt that ‘commodity’ is what the ABs have now morphed into). And on lexicons for the team, let’s not muck around with ‘dynasty’. More like ‘empire’.
Sure, ‘almost stop at nothing’ is a damning conclusion, but it seems apt when you digest some examples of the skewed judgments or deals done concerning the All Blacks entity made by NZR with Steve Tew at their helm since the 2011 World Cup win; all the while seemingly taken to protect the dominance of our nigh-on invincible team.
Judgments that when it comes down to it reek of inconvenient truths, hypocrisy and a level of arrogance. And are there even further questionable decisions that others properly in the know than myself could tell you about? It wouldn’t be so surprising considering what is already in the public domain.
Time then to start examining some of the rotten borer spreading from under the Empire’s floorboards since 2011. The first beetle to escape through the cracks in record time, which may also have been roughly the time in which things were finalised, was the mega-deal signed in October 2012 with the American insurance giant, A.I.G.- a deal made in spite of what has been a myriad of fraud settlements, not to mention convictions against A.I.G. and its subsidiaries since 2006. When read in detail, they almost push ‘nefarious’ to a whole new level. And the most recent example was only two years ago.
To get some idea of what has gone on, simply google ‘AIG rip off millions.’ This is a revealing read: . Interesting to note that the bail out of AIG from around the time of the 2008 recession was the one thing above all else which most angered Ben Bernanke, Head of the US Federal Reserve.
And of course the irony, from Steve Tew (courtesy of ‘AllBlacks.com’, 13 Oct 2012), when the deal was announced: ‘This is not a decision we have taken lightly…NZRU consulted with senior players and others as we carefully weighed up this latest move. On balance it is a very positive opportunity…’ Well, quite. Problem being NZR apparently bypassed doing due diligence on all the shady stuff. Or even worse, they knew full well but chose to ignore it. They had a chance to redress things at renewal time with AIG in 2016 after a lot more had come to light since 2012. And what did they do? They kept their blindfold on tight and blithely signed on for another six years.
As well as happily collecting tainted money, NZR also seem fond of reverting to double standards when it comes to discarding or retaining players in the All Blacks. In 2016, when Aaron Smith was busted for his seedy little toilet tryst at Christchurch Airport while in full All Blacks garb, just about metaphorically incinerating (or so you would have thought) his contract in terms of expected player behaviour and professional conduct, he later brazenly lied to an NZR judiciary panel about what happened. This was after pledging to front up with the truth when first caught. Just a point right here that NZR are always very quick to trumpet their favourite mantra of ‘Good men make good All Blacks’. Quick, pass the sick bag. I need to vomit up some diced carrots.
To quell the initial firestorm and no doubt to make an example of Smith, NZR did suspend him for one match for inappropriate conduct when the incident first came to light, but when it came to the issue of the intentionally lying to his employer at an official inquiry, Smith was exonerated and let off with a warning. Even more stunning when you consider it wasn’t his first time in trouble for the All Blacks.
The relatively nauseating conclusion to be drawn from this is that it was more important to NZR to keep their number one halfback on the field in order to increase the chances of victory and at the same time, preserve their ongoing marketability and financial returns.
Unintentionally surely, but it worked out almost perfectly that a stern rebuke and initial response via Smith’s one match suspension turned out to have twin benefits- it allayed concerns of the chief sponsors and negated the necessity of banning Smith for longer no matter what transpired after that.
Contrast Smith’s lenient treatment/inexplicable escape to the treatment of Tongan Charles Piutau in 2015 at the time of World Cup selection. Piutau was the most accomplished, and close to most dangerous back (IMO) in the country alongside Nehe Milner-Skudder during the 2015 season and yet was bizarrely passed over for World Cup selection in favour of Waisake Naholo, who at the time had had no Rugby after only just recovering from a broken leg. You’ll recall Naholo went on to play only a minimal role in the tournament (save for an electrifying try versus Georgia).
It seems Piutau’s ‘mistake’ before the World Cup was in announcing he had signed a deal with Ulster in Northern Ireland. Piutau was convinced his omission was due to the Ulster move and basically said as such to the media. One could hardly have blamed him for going. To begin with, he had been shunted around the backline a bit and had often received ‘work-ons’ from Hansen or others, even though he often seemed to be doing everything pretty much perfectly out on the pitch (In fact, I’ll challenge anyone to ever name a time he glaringly slipped up in an All Blacks jersey). You have to wonder what Piutau must have thought about Smith’s wet bus ticket treatment.
It’s not only on the international front where NZR stands guilty of selectivity. Domestically they still continue to marginalise the once-great NPC provincial competition (nowadays The Mitre 10 Cup) by a combination of ridiculous scheduling and spartan promotional efforts- a complete travesty and disgrace when you consider the healthy bank balance. Not to mention withdrawing all the top-line All Blacks weeks in advance of the traditional northern tour.
It feels almost as though NZR are making it their mission to shun the national provincial competition and the iconic Ranfurly Shield. To diehards, the continued failure of NZR to bring back real meaning and kinder scheduling to these two famous competitions, is almost treasonous.
To understand how little NZR value those two competitions, a look at a document that appears to have been written in 2016 (no date is viewable), titled ‘2020 A Bright Future for Rugby’ contains six key focus areas. The first one reads ‘All Blacks and other national teams winning pinnacle events’. No surprises there then. What is a surprise is by the time you arrive at the fifth focus area, there has yet to be any mention at all of a policy on fostering provincial rugby. The fifth states ‘Rugby is the sport of choice in wider Auckland’-hmmm, wonder what the rest of the country thinks? And number six? Nope, no deal. That one relates to a desire that the British and Irish Lions series is a success on and off the field. That was in 2017- 2020 was still three years off. Good grief, come off it NZR. Do you seriously expect us to swallow such a shallow, self-serving goal as part of a master plan for growing the game? Are you seriously that damn myopic?
Aah yes, that old chestnut- Growing the game. But for who? For all? Ha. NZR use nothing but a load of ambiguous, corporate-speak, double-dutch phraseology to brainwash us into thinking they really care about anything other than the All Blacks and elitism. Here are their present-day ‘plans’ for growth and development for provincial rugby, as searched for on the official NZR site,: __________ That’s right. Zilch, nada, nil. There is something that goes: ‘At the top is the Vision. The Vision of rugby Inspiring and Unifying New Zealanders.’ Holy heck, who wrote that tripe? And how much did they get paid? We are supposed to find out exactly what this grandiose statement actually means at another page called ‘The Scoreboard’. The problem being no such page even exists on the site. How utterly convenient.
In their desire to keep the All Blacks at the top of the world rugby tree, it is pretty clear that some things have to give. Meaning if domestic rugby remains diluted, then that is a sacrifice NZR seem willing to make. A kind of collateral damage. But that is lamentable. And if they really desired to, they could change things for the better. There is a way to make the national championship/Mitre 10 Cup meaningful again. I explain how it could work in the second-to-last paragraph of a piece written in October 2016, entitled ‘Terminal malfunction on NPC launch pad’. The only time the plan wouldn’t be feasible would be in a World Cup year when the players are always withdrawn early.
As an aside, what kind of bona-fide, large-scale organisation doesn’t have a single most important Mission Statement? That fact speaks far more than almost anything else I’ve brought up.
Thankfully, not everything in Wellington is a closed shop. There are a few positives for the future. One is that the number two at NZR, Neil Sorenson eventually ascends to the top job. Sorenson is progressive and in speaking with media he seems to promote inclusion a lot better than Steve Tew. Another is that Dr Farah Palmer made it onto the NZR board. Not before time for such a clever and impressive individual.
The other piece of enlightenment comes this week with the news that finally coaching contenders won’t have to be working in this country to be considered for a role with the All Blacks. Hallelujah, (although you can’t help wondering whether that decision was suddenly announced in the wake of Lord Hansen’s man-in-waiting Ian Foster admitting that he may not be the right man as successor- cue panic stations).
So why so much contempt for NZR? Firstly, for re-signing a sponsorship with such an unscrupulous bunch of law breakers. Secondly, for being inconsistent in their treatment of players. Thirdly, for letting once-prestigious competitions slide into irrelevancy (The National Championship is a sideshow now, and it’s in spite of NZR that the Ranfurly Shield still retains its mana). Lastly, for being in proxy, the marketing arm of All Blacks inc and not a lot else.
Note that I used to frequently write on this site about the All Blacks. In fact, I used to be so enamoured with Steve Hansen that I had a pet name for him- ‘The great gruff one’. But since around the time of the Lions series, which I didn’t enjoy much at all- for several reasons-most of the rugby and the bluster since from on high has left me feeling cold. I’ve almost gone the opposite way on Steve Hansen now. His off-hand treatment of Sir Gordon Tietjens and now seemingly Chris Boyd borders on vindictive and being bullying. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand above all else, it’s a bully.
Email me, Paul Montague (especially someone from NZR, if you dare) at: firstname.lastname@example.org