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Aisle be Back: All Blacks v Ireland aftermath

  • By Kevin McCarthy

What a week it’s been. It’s not even over yet. In fact, I can’t be sure it’s ever going to end. Banshee winds ripped through Wellington on Thursday, in an apt fashion.

Last Saturday the All Blacks were humiliated. Tried their damndest, well at least for bits of the second half. But dismantled by a clinical, well-drilled team, maximising its talents.

On Sunday, the coach was further humiliated. Someone decided he wouldn’t be fronting to the media that day, as per usual practice. It seemed from his reaction that he wasn’t asked his opinion or given the chance to input on that particular decision. He did not seem impressed, however. The abiding image was of him walking to get on a bus.

Metaphorically, he might have been under the said bus.  In fact, he was – as his boss, NZR boss Mark Robinson had by the afternoon put out a terse statement saying the result was unacceptable (duh) and there’d be a review.

Then on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and as of Thursday, counting, we’ve all been humiliated. New Zealand rugby as a laughingstock. Even the South Africans are taking pity and not putting the boot in – yet. Justin Marshall gamely staged a security footage incident with Akira Ioane as a desperate distraction but to no avail.

I checked the calendar, and apparently there is a trip to South Africa looming. Two tests, and the players are meant to assemble on Monday next week. What am I meant to do if I am a player? Do I agree to join the quiz team on Tuesday night? Do I just leave a scribbled note to the missus?

As you read this, you will probably know that sometime on Friday, venue and time unspecified at this time, there will be a squad announcement. Also, a likely confirmation of Ian Foster, the upgrading of Joe Schmidt to be his …. His …. his. Well, whatever, it should be of help. Some assistant coaches can start looking for new job opportunities as well. That would seem to be the gist of it.

Up until late Thursday night, when we learned this through “sources”, pretty much the only communication about what’s happened has been on a staff member’s Linked In social media posting. It said a lot, and probably too much, and yet strangely not enough. That’s your social media for you.

So, Ian Foster will soon again be in front of a group of journalists. Will Mark Robinson be there too? Too early to predict. There will be a lot of questions about the last week, and lots of deflecting back to just wanting to focus on the Rugby Championship and the challenge of playing the Boks.

It will feel terrible and yet strangely thrilling, like watching a formula one crash. And all the worse for the hiatus and radio silence of the last few days. Makes you nostalgic for when you could just talk about some rugby – instead of dissecting the cadaver of the national game’s administration.

By the end of it, I guarantee you may be clutching to a few straws. My biggest straw is that the playing group – the Saveas, the Coles, the Canes (if he is still there), the Whitelocks – won’t stand for being humiliated again. That they’ll pull off at least one miracle on the high veldt. But you may say that I’m a dreamer.

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This is meant to be a blog about rugby. But I can’t help but provide a post-script on the debacle of the press conference that never was. To recap, all the media turn up on Sunday only to eventually find out the plug had been pulled. The media manager later said it was her decision to do so and based on protecting the mental health of the coach and captain, from a media baying for blood.

Now, I hate it when people draw longbows with weak arms. I don’t know the people involved, I don’t know how NZR structures its internal decision making or how it devolves authority, and I have no inside knowledge. But I have worked in a communications team and I have worked as a journalist.

And from that perspective, none of this makes a lot of sense. Comms manager is not a senior leadership role. It is definitely not junior – and will be at or near the top table as appropriate and should be listened to for expertise and advice. But comms managers don’t make unilateral decisions of this magnitude.

It is valid to raise issues of the mental health of players and management, and no doubt that view is genuinely held. But this sort of scrutiny comes with this particular territory – the All Blacks (you may have heard of them).  Ian Foster strikes me as someone able to handle it. New Zealand journalists are not to be honest that scary. Though possibly they are by now, seething.

Finally, the statement issued later that day by Mark Robinson was quite the opposite of being protective of the team or management. So, I can’t square it with the sentiments behind cancelling the press conference.

That’s what I think. I stress-tested my scepticism with some far better and more experienced practitioners of the dark arts, and yeah, they kind of feel the same way.

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