Ardie Savea was the right choice as All Blacks skipper
Savea possesses many fine qualities as a player, man and leader, but the major issue here is one of ethnicity.
Savea is the first Pasifika player to captain the All Blacks since Graham Henry was in charge, joining other men of Samoan heritage Tana Umaga, Jerry Collins, Rodney So’oialo, Mils Muliaina and Keven Mealamu in assuming the armband.
Maybe there were no suitable Pasifika players during Steve Hansen’s tenure. Luke Whitelock, for instance, was captain in two tests under Hansen’s watch, which history tends to forget.
But as we look at the All Blacks – and the wider New Zealand rugby community – it’s important to have a skipper who represents who we are.
Savea choked up on radio over the weekend, while describing what it meant to have been given this role. Not so much what it meant to him, but his parents.
The son of Samoan immigrants, Savea spoke of what this appointment meant for his mum and dad. To come to a new country, face various challenges many of us can’t imagine and then have a son become All Blacks captain is a true modern-day New Zealand success story.
Take a look at some of our recent Covid case reporting. See how Samoan New Zealanders with the Delta virus have been identified by ethnicity.
Why is that?
Rugby in this country isn’t perfect. But, at its best, it unifies people like few other things.
It’s diverse and teaches us all important lessons about tolerance and understanding and team work. It takes a unified effort to win rugby matches and a respect for everyone’s backgrounds and beliefs.
The All Blacks are clearly a multicultural squad. And the easiest way to make the group cohesive is to say one size fits all.
To make the culture of the coaches and administrators the prevailing one. To install an Anglo Saxon New Zealander as skipper and expect everyone else to follow him regardless.
Only, this country and this All Blacks team, is about more than that. It is a melting pot whose leader should reflect that.
Savea is a man who, through his deeds on the paddock, other men will play for. A man whose effort inevitably inspires others.
But think of the other Pasifika players in that squad and what Savea’s appointment means and represents to them. Think of the Samoan and Tongan and Fijian boys and girls around the country who feel they belong that bit more now and who take confidence from the fact a man with their background now captains the most important team in the country.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and New Zealand Rugby don’t always get things right. They don’t always make decisions that make all of us want to get in behind the team, but this time they have.
There were captaincy alternatives here. None particularly outstanding, but still candidates who would’ve fitted the traditional mould of All Blacks captain.
Savea’s appointment was inspired and, in turn, will hopefully prove inspiring.
He’ll have his own challenges now, not least accepting criticism. Savea has a touch of the NBA superstar about him, in that he appears to believe he’s above the critiques of we mere mortals.
Despite being an engaging and interesting character, Savea quickly tires of media intrusions. He distrusts those with the tape recorders and microphones and struggles to hide his disdain for their occasionally ignorant questions.
But there will be those around the country rejoicing at his appointment, not least the Sam Cane sceptics.
Circumstances have helped dictate Savea assuming this role, but stand-in doesn’t mean stop-gap. Savea has the stature and playing ability to take this position on fulltime and grow into one of the great All Blacks captains.
Whether he’s afforded that opportunity remains to be seen. For now, we can only be grateful that a skipper has been chosen who represents the broad church that rugby in New Zealand has been for many years now.
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