There was once a time when a back seat of the bus culture prevailed within the All Blacks. Senior statesmen called the shots. Individuals largely looked out for themselves. Few helped others competing in their same position. Not so, anymore.
This culture has, in fact, flipped on its head so much that it’s now common for All Blacks to be closer to those in their respective roles.
The best example at present is the tightly-contested midfield quartet comprising Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown. Those members also regularly mention Ngani Laumape who missed squad selection.
As Williams and Goodhue gently ribbed each other at a media conference as the All Blacks prepare for their second World Cup match against Canada in Oita on Wednesday, their genuine affection was clear.
Similar friendships within positional groups extend to the All Blacks’ halfbacks, locks, props, hookers and outside backs.
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In many ways it makes sense. Throughout a test week the All Blacks hold mini group team meetings where they discuss tactics, with these gatherings often extending to dinners or coffees out.
Naturally shared understanding exists with those performing similar roles but the counter is these are all highly competitive driven athletes who desperately want to start every test.
With the All Blacks midfield, four doesn’t go into three. Each week one player misses out and another must sit and wait for the chance via the bench.
Rather than drop their lip, the All Blacks expect everyone to quickly accept selection decisions, to set aside individual feelings and do everything they can for the collective.
It’s a far cry from the amateur era when starting All Blacks did not give a second thought to helping someone in their position improve for fear of losing their jersey.
“That’s just part of growing up,” Williams, who started at second-five against Canada eight years ago in Hamilton and is expected do so again at his third World Cup, said.
“We’re all at different stages of our lives but I find the more open and honest we are with those feelings the easier it is.
“We all want to start, we all want to play, but if you’re privileged and blessed to get that opportunity the other guys deserve to be given the best shot possible to perform.
“As you can tell everyone that has put on those midfield numbers over the last couple of years has performed pretty well.
“We have some pretty good convos when we all get together once a week. We talk about things that are happening outside footy rather than what’s happening on the field then we’re all honest about saying we want to start but whoever starts they deserve the rest pushing them and preparing them like they’d want.
“Those kinds of conversations have helped all the midfielders that have played, including Ngani, to be world class when they get on the field.”
Everyone pulling in the same direction, regardless of personal interests, helps makes the All Blacks what they are today.
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