There they were on the network news a few days back. Interacting with hordes of starstruck kids at various venues across the country- the All Blacks, that is.
How good did it all look? The best, actually. And priceless. Isn’t that the genesis of what it’s all about? The All Blacks are for the kids really, aren’t they? The kids collecting those cereal Stat attack trading cards. The kids trying to emulate Beauden Barrett’s and Richie Mo’unga’s set of brilliant kicking tricks. The kids who struggle not to cry or do so when the All Blacks lose. The kids who dream of one day being in the black jersey.
They are the ones who make these NZR-obsessed World Cup crusades bearable. Not the sponsors on their well-fed gravy trains, not Spark Sport and other associated media, and certainly not the grumpy sods who call up Radio Sport and moan we didn’t put sixty points on Italy in a first half.
Am prepared to make a concession that the Cup is also for all the older diggers (and diggerettes) who might be rugby tragics. That’s got to be special to a lot of them. And to the diehards and volunteers in all the rugby clubs. Because they don’t have a lot left to get enthused over with numbers dwindling, sadly.
In fact, seeing the All Blacks out there mingling with all the local communities and kids brought memories flooding back of the amazing atmosphere of when the first Rugby World Cup came here in 1987. What an incredible time that was to be in NZ back then if you were a sports fan. In essence, a right old throwback. Even living in the big smoke miles away you could feel the buzz of matches like Wales-Tonga or minor classics like Italy-Fiji from Dunedin. And what was great was seeing some stars from the lower-tier nations to the forefront. Such as the Italian left winger Cuttita, who scored a couple of absolutely classic winger’s tries against Argentina and then Fiji a few days after.
In 1987 the All Blacks almost exhausted themselves with their visits around the country. A lot of that was due to the perceptiveness of the late, lamented Brian Lochore. It’s another reason why it felt so good seeing the ABs out doing stuff with the kids. Because it didn’t matter how many practical jokes they tried putting across their young fans, the smiles they still kept across their dials were enormous.
No amount of massive paint jobs across aircrafts or credit card marketing campaigns will ever come within an old-fashioned Southland ruck of engendering the amount of following and goodwill that a meet and greet and a kick around with adoring kids can achieve. Brilliant, and more please wherever and whenever possible in the future- not just four-yearly when we are off to a World Cup.
You could not place a dollar value on the kind of payback they would get from their young fans for days like that. Money can and never will buy that kind of grassroots public relations.