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The Classic All Blacks could be a shining light for NZR

By Hamish Bidwell
Richard Kahui at the All Blacks' victory parade after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Martin Hunter / Getty Images)

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New Zealand’s not short of former All Blacks. Nor are we limited in our affection for them.

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No, we all love an ex-All Black and would relish the opportunity to be around one.

Forty thousand Spaniards packed out a park in Madrid the other day, to do just that.

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The Classic All Blacks aren’t a new phenomenon. They turned up at a tournament in Bermuda for years, playing a bit of footy, swapping old yarns and enjoying the hospitality..

The more you read or heard about those trips, the more you wish you could’ve been there.

If I had a dollar for every person who’s told me “I used to watch rugby,’’ I wouldn’t have to write columns for a living.

This country is littered with dyed in the wool rugby folk who’ve fallen out of love with the game, in large part because they can’t relate to the players.

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They idolised player X or player Y, but haven’t been as enthused since he gave the game away.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. If you’re reading this then you remember when All Blacks played club rugby and had regular jobs, lived in modest houses and drove the kind of car you could afford too.

The players were relatable and visible and loved a beer as much as you did.

Well, if fans are to re-engage with the game, then our former players wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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Why should the Classic All Blacks be confined to playing overseas? Why couldn’t New Zealand Rugby (NZR) use them as a marketing tool, travelling the country, playing games, running clinics, hosting aftermatches and generally appealing to the nostalgics in all of us?

Some of my happiest days in the rugby media were spent in towns such as Eketahuna and Waverley, where our Super Rugby stars had come to play pre-season games.

To see the smiling faces and interaction between fans, coaches and players was to see the sport at its finest.

No-one went home unhappy and everyone agreed that rugby was the winner.

But it’s hard for active players to do those things too often. There are so many demands on their time that days like that have to be the exception rather than the rule.

That’s where our former All Blacks could come in.

My interest in watching ex-players do rugby analysis is nil, but I would love to see them play or coach or talk about their era.

I’m not alone.

A second series of Match Fit is about to hit our television screens, Piri Weepu now has a lucrative second career as an TV outdoorsman and every word uttered and deed done by Daniel Carter is front page news.

And that’s just three random examples of people’s continued fascination with those men who’ve worn the most famous rugby jersey of them all.

We have a huge, under-utilised resource here that could help win back the hearts and minds of the rugby public and I would strongly urge NZR to tap into it.

I would pay to watch the Classic All Blacks play and then pay to listen to them talk at a function afterwards. I’d pay to have them coach kids’ teams, adult teams, you name it.

We have the Black Clash Twenty20 cricket game these days and the old Fight for Life boxing in the years before that; both wildly popular and both built on our unstinting admiration for former All Blacks.

There’s a buck to me made here but, more important than that, there is a connection between the public and the game that can be rebuilt.

Put the Classic All Blacks on club grounds, provincial stadiums or Eden Park; I don’t care. Just put them somewhere where fans can watch them, talk to them, touch them, drink with them or just simply tell them how much they love them.

New Zealand has a rich and enviable rugby tradition and it’s about time we made the most of it.

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