“The Pacific Islands - The All Blacks have sucked them dry for years, giving virtually nothing back.”
Steve Hansen sounded like a tired old man whistling in the dark as he berated young rugby men for failing in their moral and patriotic duty to turn down life’s marvellous opportunities for the immense honour of being thought of as an All Blacks possibility.
With hypocrisy screaming from every word, the All Blacks coach fumed over players who “take the easy option” and lack “mental fortitude”, the crime being to take up international opportunities with other nations. The catalyst for the attack was Chiefs inside back Bundee Aki’s decision to sign with Ireland, whom he can play for once a residency requirement is met.
Hansen just couldn’t work this out, or so he reckoned. For starters, Hansen is out of touch in how to deal with the rising generations whose sense of entitlement doesn’t brook such nonsense from elders. And talk about ironic.
You can smell the fear at NZRU headquarters. They know the day of reckoning is close, when the All Blacks can no longer rule on the paddock and they have lost control elsewhere.
For one thing, borders and old codes are being broken down, as Aki well knows. Sonny Bill Williams returns from the NRL next year, when he can cruise into Aki’s No 12 jersey at the Chiefs, before trotting along a red carpet into the test side. That’s the same SBW who got a free World Cup-winning ride, skipped the parade, skipped out on rugby, will do so again and treated the Kiwi rugby league side with matching contempt. So can you just hang on for an extra couple of years please Bundee?
Let’s think. Many coaches have taken pots of money to guide test teams whose missions include trying to beat the All Blacks. Men like … mmmm … Steve Hansen. Let’s think again. Another former Welsh coach, Sir Graham Henry, had hardly scraped the World Cup confetti off his black blazer and he was putting an Argentinian one on.
The Pacific Islands – now there’s a topic. The All Blacks have sucked them dry for years, giving virtually nothing back. Even our schools are in on this rugby mission, turning education into the Four Rs and luring Pacific Island players who merge into the All Blacks system. Sport is a ruthless, money-oriented business, and New Zealand rugby is in the thick of it. That’s not a crime. But please spare us the “Bundee has let us down” hogwash.
Biding your time in chasing a dream is a dangerous business. Just ask Robbie Deans. And what’s the bet Benji Marshall is paid a lot more than Aki. Loyal young players with All Black dreams are getting stuffed around good and proper at the Blues, while their coaches are distracted covering their tracks in Project Benji.
In this, the Blues – agents of the NZRU – had careless disregard for their own. Whoever signed Marshall didn’t do due diligence. In other words, they can’t have watched much rugby league. The little bloke had lost the heart for the battle, to add to other obvious flaws. Marshall still had a few little tricks, but it was like watching a magician pull rabbits out of a hat while everyone else was sawing elephants in half. No wonder – as Piri Weepu has observed – some of the Blues have attitude problems.
A top player agent told me a long time ago that the magic of the hallowed jersey was over-stated. Many players knew their best hope was a few lower-rated tests which could be turned into serious money and terrific life opportunities. Now they don’t even need the black stepping stone.
Flags of convenience may not be how international sport was supposed to be mapped out, but they have become a fact of life and our own national sports teams are not immune to their charms, starting with the more outrageous switcheroo example of Irene van Dyk. So off you go, Bundee Aki. The All Blacks machine may have bypassed you anyway, or spat you out pronto.
Most of us were unaware Aki was on the radar anyway, what with Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill, Francis Saili and Ryan Crotty in the way. Here was his choice: the tired, poorly paid, travel heavy Super 15 and remote All Black hopes v riches, life in Europe and international rugby with Ireland. Time for new dreams.