So are we New Zealanders arrogant in our view of the world of rugby? Kieran Crowley, the Kaponga-born Italian coach, says yes, and I would agree up to a point, and provided there may be extenuating circumstances.
Perhaps the biggest issue is whether this applies to New Zealand’s top managers, including All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and his assistants. And here I would say no, they aren’t, or they aren’t in terms of the world game, because that would hurt their team’s high performance goals.
But does this also apply to New Zealand rugby, to the organisation? Not necessarily, and that’s a problem, because it impacts every part of the Kiwi game and it came to light again recently when it comes to the Silver Lake private equity deal.
First, a reminder.
Crowley, the former All Blacks full-back known as ‘Colt’ in his home province of Taranaki and further afield, kicked back in the direction of said Kiwi rugby arrogance in an interview with 1News after Italy’s spectacular Six Nations victory over Wales in Cardiff. .
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“One thing I’ve discovered since I left New Zealand, and I don’t want this to be taken badly, but New Zealanders are arrogant,” Crowley said.
“New Zealanders are arrogant to the rest of the world when it comes to rugby. There are exceptional players in every team in the world, but you ask New Zealanders whose names they wouldn’t know, they wouldn’t know not three quarters of the names of French players at the moment.
Arrogant, or simply in possession of an occasionally introverted fanbase unaware of many overseas-based rugby stars?
Maybe a bit of both, but it’s probably a matter of semantics. Although the All Blacks’ decline has been such over the past few years – losing the 2019 World Cup semi-final when they barely fired a shot against England, losing to Argentina for the first time in 2020, outmatched and beaten against Ireland and France on successive weekends last November – that it is doubtful that many New Zealanders now regard the All Blacks as premier world champions.
When I say there are mitigating circumstances for this perceived arrogance, I mean that many New Zealanders were brought up on a junk diet until the northern hemisphere teams came here in the middle of the year. We inevitably get tired of second-tier teams for three events who leave with the promise of a short break before their club season resumes.
Ireland’s three-Test tour here in July will be highly anticipated given their recent success against the All Blacks. They also now play an attacking and intelligent style of play – they identified space and used it much better than the All Blacks in Dublin last year, which was an indictment for both teams .
Hopefully they bring in a strong squad as the All Blacks haven’t lost a home streak since 1994 when France won a two-Test series. The last time a nation from the northern hemisphere (not counting the British and Irish Lions) beat the All Blacks in New Zealand was in 2009, when France won 27-22 at Carisbrook.
This represents a long series of predictable and often one-sided results that may explain some apathy when it comes to Kiwis. And yet, in almost every way, the Six Nations are a far better product than the Rugby Championship, and the weekend’s finals should have reminded us of that.
New Zealand Rugby, the organization, should not get off so lightly. Their rejection of Australian rugby interests during the rebuilding of Super Rugby in 2020 in particular has put their noses out of place through the Tasman and former chairman Brent Impey’s insistence on framing the Players Association’s refusal New Zealanders to back Silver Lake as being based on player greed created a huge setback for negotiations.
The two parties are now much closer and the sale of shares in the Kiwi game is inevitable, but the rumblings are still felt. The NZR board approved a deal which it felt could not be improved. Thanks to the position of the NZRPA, it was.
Arrogant? Probably yes. Certainly, former Wallabies great David Campese thinks the organization is, and in an interview two years ago he insisted the All Blacks would eventually pay the price. “Everything happens off the pitch before it happens on the pitch,” he said. “Always.”