Reading the Steve Hansen comments on NZ Rugby (New Zealand) you get the sense that it is like an ex-wife putting the boot in. And you wonder, who will be seen in a worse position at the conclusion of this dire period for NZ Rugby?
Interviewed by Today FM, Sir Steve Hansen KNZM did not hold back when assessing the last month of on-field and off-field behaviour of the governing union. “They’ve come out and aired all their dirty washing in the front part of the property rather than out the back.” Steve ‘Shag’ Hansen has never been concerned with his diplomacy, a trick he and Eddie Jones appear to enjoy when asked matter-of-fact questions.
Those and further comments painted NZ Rugby in a poor light. And that drew a reaction from the CEO Mark Robinson (see below image), who spoke on rival network NZME, and his explanation over the Steve Hansen comments was that “He’s someone I’ve known for a long time and I know he’s passionate about the game and New Zealand. He’s made a great contribution to it. I’ve certainly reached out to him and we’ll have a catch-up at some stage,” Robinson said.
“He said some things that I wouldn’t agree with and we’ll have that conversation. I know he’s also incredibly protective of Ian [Foster] and he’s protecting his mate too – and we all understand that.”
From the perspective of the fans, hearing and reading such open and emotive commentary from all sides is damming for the three-time World Champions. It is a trend where the cloak of near-invincibility is being peeled away by poor performances. Two losses at the end of 2021 have now been followed by a first-ever win by Ireland on New Zealand soil, as they wrapped up the Summer series 1-2 over the All Blacks. Now, as the claws are exposed, this bickering and negative connotations aired in public, it is becoming quite unsavory – as any divorce proceeding may be.
When the ex attacks you openly, there must be more to the story than some are letting on.
Steve Hansen comments on NZ Rugby
Hansen isn’t the first, and won’t be the last to ‘put the boot in’ to NZ Rugby. They are an organization under the pump, externally and (it seems) internally. The high-performance component is not operating to its standard. A standard that for the majority of the time, sees the All Blacks and the Black Ferns women’s side, each leading the rugby world.
Now though, that mantle has fallen. The two sides have dropped down the pecking order by their recent results, as much as it has in the support structure. Each has exposed issues around their coaching groups – with Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore resigning after a damaging report into that side’s culture. Complaints shared on social media were critical of their handling of human resources. The released report expressed dissatisfaction, and that followed a tour with four successive losses.
Now the All Blacks have similar performance/operational issues under the direction of Ian Foster. Recently releasing two assistant coaches, the playing group and senior leaders have also begun to express their views.
And with the focus on the results unsettling the machine which generates the most revenue, will have effects on the corporate model and the financial goals of NZ Rugby. That includes a new private equity partner, Silverlake.
Robinson spoke on that topic, by saying “Regarding the players’ thing (their relationship with NZR), I think we’re working really hard and really well at the moment in that space around things in general, but also with regards to a new partner coming on with Silver Lake.
“There’s no question it went through some challenging times throughout working through bringing an investment partner on, but in our minds, we’re well through that. The interaction we’re having with [players association boss] Rob [Nichol] and his team are really constructive and positive.”
“Certainly, the way all the players and all of our camps engage with our teams and our partners also in the work that they do is really positive.”
Some might see his corporate language as one area in that NZ Rugby is losing touch with its stakeholders, and that was also touched on by the Steve Hansen comments. He lambasted the current executive, saying “I don’t think they’re doing their job right at the moment. You’ve got a group of eight All Blacks captains coming out and forming a group and went and spoke to them, and ‘Kirky’ (David Kirk) is in the paper the other day saying they don’t feel they were listened to.”
“So, the relationship between the board and the exec and players at the moment is probably the worst it’s ever been.”
Not only are these latest Steve Hansen comments unhelpful, but they also add to the simmering potbelly. More NZ Rugby ex’s targeting the organization. Former CEO David Moffet is never afraid to be critical, yet he and others fan the flames that will identify other issues within the game.
Where there is Smoke, there is usually Fire
Respectfully adding to the conversation is a tolerable matter of fact. Sir Clive Woodward is fiercely critical of the England Rugby team, and often of the RFU. The English have similar observers who have tolerated poor performance lows, as well as peaks; like at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. It is when your voice is clear, and not seen as backstabbing or includes personal attacks, that many have targeted comments. Nick Mallet is another from South Africa.
Hansen is specifically pointing out the relationship between the executive and boardroom, where massive change has occurred. And from the top, often the view below and of those holding up the apparatus of the game, are too often overshadowed.
He described the Under 20 area of the sport, as of concern. He is correct. NZ Rugby last won an official World Rugby U20 championship in 2017. France has won multiple times since, and South Africa won the latest 2022 U20 Summer Series hosted by Italy. Comparable to those nations, New Zealand is ranked far below them; even though they did win a recent Oceania Tournament in Australia.
Talent identification and clear pathways are in place, yet at the apex, there is only ever room for two or three players in the wider squad per position. So on one hand, maintaining consistent selection leads to better International players, but not providing the alternative and development for the remaining players, can lead to a dropping away of talent. Talk of an All Blacks XV is only now translating into scheduled fixtures. Meeting the Barbarians at Tottenham Stadium on November 13 might be the only opportunity some of the second-level NZ players will get to play – and to showcase their talent.
Adding to those issues, there is always the loss of talent externally too to respond to. Highlighted by Ngani Laumape, who after seeming to secure a place in the All Blacks group, was not selected to play at the Japan RWC, and subsequently left the country to play in France. He is not alone, and that is a fact for many unsupported players.
What cannot happen though [in the opinion of this writer] is to fan the flames further, so that the wider International community can then enjoy a fire raging downunder. Scott Robertson’s recent comments have poured even more fuel on the fire. Many are calling Sam Cane out as skipper, and some are pointing to the CEO as a weak link, yet for all the targets, none is bigger than Foster himself.
If his next two test results as head coach are not fruitful, then the reaction on his return could be a ‘red hot furnace’ at NZ Rugby headquarters.
In professional sport, one requires results. Sports organizations must also be accountable. Yet when ‘the ex is mouthing off’ at you, it seems like the cries for change mean the heat in the kitchen is just too hot for some to handle.
“Main photo credit”
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