The All Blacks went 13-1-2 this year. Pretty good right? Not if you’re actually a New Zealander it seems, with questions being asked if the cracks are starting to show in the world champion’s armour. Seems a bit harsh, especially since the All Blacks also put up record wins over the Springboks and Wallabies.
But that’s just the way it is around here, which is why – at this time of the year – it’s more than a little galling to watch a team called the All Blacks get beaten by the United States. That result came in the early rounds of the World Sevens Series in Cape Town overnight.
Not just beaten either, in fact the All Blacks Sevens team was held to nil by an American side that ran in four tries. Now this isn’t a slight on the US Sevens programme, who have done outstandingly well on the World Sevens Series over the past few years. The latest win was their sixth over the All Blacks Sevens.
It’s more of a comment on how far Sevens has fallen a long way down the list of priorities of NZ Rugby. Right now the team has devolved into a youth grade outfit for guys that looking to secure contracts. That’s Mitre 10 Cup contracts, by the way, not Super Rugby. Star player Vilimoni Koroi, while admittedly still very young, didn’t even start for his Otago side when he made the switch back to fifteens a couple of months ago. Despite the seemingly bottomless pit of NZ coaching talent that’s currently heading up most national teams worldwide, the All Black Sevens don’t even have a local coach.
Is it NZ Rugby’s fault, though? Running a separate Sevens programme is a costly exercise, and you get the feeling that they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to. While this not might be entirely true, it is that they simply don’t have the money to make this team as great as it could be.
Which makes the reasoning to call them the All Blacks just that more baffling. For those who don’t know, the decision was made to align the top three men’s national teams as the All Blacks was made a few years ago: so we now have the All Blacks, the Maori All Blacks and the All Black Sevens.
The thinking behind it is, admittedly, sound. The All Black brand can keep going during the summer months, reaching far flung corners of the rugby world like Dubai, Vancouver and Singapore. But that brand strength is built on the fact that the All Blacks win a lot, and aren’t content to lose.
Anyone who was new to the game wouldn’t exactly get that impression that if they tuned in to see the All Blacks get beaten 22-0 by the US. If a newspaper anywhere in the world ran a story saying ‘US whip All Blacks’, no one can really complain about the accuracy of the wording (interesting to note that one of NZ’s two major media outlets simply refuses to call them by their official name, though).
Which, unfortunately for NZ Rugby, is what is happening – making their rebrand of the team and then subsequent non-commitment to financially support it basically counterproductive. Everyone who grew up in a rugby-heavy environment knows that the All Blacks and All Black Sevens have nothing to do with each other, but those who don’t would have no idea. And that’s the exact market that the rebrand was trying to reach.
The All Black Sevens are now perennial quarter-finalists on the World Sevens Series circuit. The irony that they were far more successful (winners of 12 world titles) when they were simply the NZ Sevens team, shouldn’t be lost on the marketing team who decided to rename them.
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