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All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson will have frightened his employers already

By Hamish Bidwell
Chair Dame Patsy Reddy, newly announced All Blacks Coach Scott Robertson and NZR CEO Mark Robinson speak to the media during a New Zealand Rugby Press Conference at NZ Rugby House on March 21, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It’s interesting, on a couple of fronts, to see new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson hold the door ajar to picking players from overseas.

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In his first media session as incumbent, the man known far and wide as Razor suggested New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) policy of only selecting players domiciled here could become open to review or interpretation.

It’s a pragmatic approach and one that I’ve championed for a long time.

Whether it comes to fruition, remains to be seen.

But it’s also recognition that New Zealand no longer possesses the depth to disregard world class players plying their trade elsewhere.

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The bit that interests me, though, is what these utterances indicate about Robertson’s reign.

I’m not sure what strengths Roberston’s predecessor, Ian Foster, possessed as All Blacks coach. But I’m well aware one of his weaknesses was that he wasn’t a gift from the content gods.

You could go to a Sunday Steve Hansen press conference and leave with five stories for immediate publication and a couple of others for a rainy day.

Hansen was engaging, forthright and well aware of his intended audiences, be they opponents, referees, administrators or the general public.

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He said things that always generated headlines and mostly rallied fans behind the team.

Robertson will do similar, while also making NZR anxious in the process.

Courtesy of its new in-house media arm – NZR+ – NZR needs original content. Robertson will provide it in a way Foster never could and, thankfully for NZR, they’ll be able to edit it all too within an inch of its life.

It’ll be entertaining and semi-revealing and tick all the relevant boxes for the governing body.

Press conferences and live interviews will be a different story, though.

In already deviating away from the proscribed policy, with regard to picking players from overseas clubs, Robertson has shown he will say the quiet parts out loud.

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That’s great for journalists and fans, but it will frighten his employers.

Robertson isn’t as off-the-wall as he makes out or shows. Yes, he’s a bit unusual, but often for effect.

There’s an image he’s cultivated and that takes some playing up to at times.

But, no matter how much talent you have at your disposal, you don’t win as often as Robertson has by being a genuine oddball.

However, he does like to regard himself as his own man. Someone who’s different, who’s not stiff and dour and a stickler for the company line.

“Decipher that,’’ was Robertson’s parting shot to media this week, after indicating player eligibility was now up for discussion.

This is a guy who, in cryptic fashion or otherwise, will go off script and will play to the crowd.

It’s all part of the sideshow designed to focus attention upon him and away from his players.

Ultimately Robertson will be judged by results on the park. Off it, though, he’s already a huge departure from the Foster years.

He also promises to be a handful – and occasionally a headache – for NZR’s media department.

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Comments

17 Comments
M
Mike 184 days ago

If NZR's primary goal is the four year cycle to win the Webb Ellis trophy by all means open the selection criteria to include overseas players - to the detriment of super rugby and the NPC competitions.

If we are OK to have weak All Black squads between World Cups because of players’ obligations to their overseas masters, by all means allow our talent to fly to the Pound, Euro and Yen.

I for one want a strong domestic competition with our best players minus those who negotiate sabbatical in to their contracts.

J
Jon 185 days ago

In his first media session as incumbent, the man known far and wide as Razor suggested New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) policy of only selecting players domiciled here could become open to review or interpretation.
No he didn’t. He asked NZR and all its bodies to keep an opening mind towards reviewing the policy heading forward.

P
Pecos 185 days ago

“Frightened” is a dumb characterisation. All Razor was asking for was “an open mind”. Makes total sense.

N
Nickers 185 days ago

As it stands this whole issue is completely blown out of proportion to the point where I would say it isn’t actually a problem, and NZR don’t need to make any changes. If you look at who actually leaves and when, the current system works perfectly to keep the best players in NZ to represent the ABs while they are in their prime.

Other than Mo’unga, Frizzell, and Fainganuku who is there playing overseas that would be selected for the ABs? Of those three I think only Mo’unga would be selected. NZ is spoilt for choice for outside backs and although Fainganuku is awesome he won’t be missed.

From the class of 2023 Whitelock, Smith, Coles and Retallick have all deliberately retired from international rugby and taking up lucrative sunset deals. It’s not like they’re leaving in their prime and would want to continue with the grind of international rugby for another 4 years even if eligible. Zero chance of any of those three being around for the next WC. Nepo has been overtaken by a number of young bucks and probably wouldn’t be selected in 2024 onwards.

So genuinely who does that leave that the ABs can’t select if they wanted to? - Only 3 players.

In the history of ABs players going to play abroad how many of them were genuine contenders to be selected for the ABs at the time, or in the wider selection picture and in their prime when they left? Carl Hayman, Nick Evans, Charles Piutau were current ABs in their prime, there may be a few others, I’m going back nearly 20 years and can’t think of any.

But most other players are either on the decline or not really in the selection picture due to incumbents, even if they are very good - Ngatai, Laumape, Luatua, Vito, Sopoaga, Slade. All in and out of the team rather than core players who we would bring back from abroad to play.

Guys like Aki, JGP, Lowe, Shields, Anscombe etc… weren’t in the selection picture at all for the ABs rightly or wrongly.

k
karin 186 days ago

I lick my lips in anticipation for the coming of the ALL BLACKS .

M
Mzilikazi 186 days ago

I hope Razor keeps up the pressure and gets his overseas players for the AB games going forward. If he does not, then the wolves circling will have every chance of winning games v the AB’s. There are now two many key players, players in their prime, playing outside NZ for the AB’s not to be hurt this year, and onwards. The Boks, Ireland, France, and possibly England, are looking to have the potential to be formidable teams post RWC France. And not far behind are Fiji and Scotland. I’m not so sure of Wales, but Gatland is a canny coach, and can get the best out of his teams….most of the time. His last time with the Chiefs was not that great.

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