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'Who was the alpha?': The big learning points in Scott Robertson's career

By Ned Lester
Scott Robertson talks to Alun Wyn Jones at Barbarians training. Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images for Barbarians

Scott Robertson is bringing something new to the All Blacks, it’s a point of difference that the serial Super Rugby champion has developed over his playing and coaching career.

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That career started in Mount Maunganui, but then settled in Christchurch after his form with Bay of Plenty in the NPC impressed Canterbury scouts.

A Crusaders debut in 1996 was just reward for his team-first attitude, and a hunger to jump in the deep end.

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“I loved the physical side of the game, loved the contact,” he told 1News. “Growing up, I always wanted to figure out who was the alpha in the other team, who was the big dog? I’ll go get him for you.”

With an attitude like that, it wasn’t long before higher honours came calling. Robertson became All Black 974 in 1998 and the lessons started flooding in. Lessons that would inform his coaching style today.

“It was hugely informative for me, learning to enjoy the pressure, learning to deal with being in and out of the team, and learning to trust in and believe in myself. All of the skills I learned then would go on to help me as a coach.

“Once I became an All Black I knew I wanted to be an All Black coach. The longer I was around Wayne Smith, Wayne Smith taught me the love of the game. What it can give you, the great rewards, the commradery, the people that you meet, the travel and amazing highs and the lows.”

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After finishing his playing career with seasons in France and Japan, Robertson committed his time to the quest for coaching knowledge, surrounding himself with some of New Zealand’s finest rugby minds. Robbie Deans was his first port of call, and the then Crusaders coach said there would be an opportunity at the club when Robertson was ready for it.

Razor landed at his local Sumner club, perenial losers in their division, but not for long.

“I learnt to inspire someone who was a bricklayer, people form all parts of life. You had to learn how to win in the wind, the southerly rain, you had all these challenges. How do you inspire, motivate, connect a group together? That’s how I learnt to get a vision for a team.”

In 2017 he got his chance in the Crusaders’ coaches box, having turned out successful campaigns with Sumner, Canterbury and the New Zealand U20s. Five years later, he was a serial Super Rugby winner with 100 of games as Crusaders kingpin under his belt.

As he sat down with Scotty Stevenson, the interviewer shared an observation that there was no memorabilia or trophies on display in the Robertson house, just a patu (Maori weapon/club made from pounamu/greenstone) Razor had received from the Crusaders.

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“The story behind it is pretty powerful, it was for the 100 games as coach of the Crusdaers.

“It’s so unique, it holds so much mana, people are just drawn to it, and they can touch it and get energy from it. It’s a great conversational piece and a big part of my life.”

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Robertson offers a candid and transparent understanding of his strengths and weaknesses as a coach, claiming to be good at starting initiatives but not so good at finishing them. He builds his coaching group and staff around him to compliment and complete his skillset, and has brought together his first choice personnel in the All Blacks’ coaches box.

“I had 11 years as a head coach coming into this, and I have a great coaching group around me, people I can trust, and who will challenge me and support me. There are massive expectations and my preparation to meet those is really good. I’ve got good mentors, I’ve got good daily habits and I have good energy. I know adversity is going to come, but I have to face that.”

Walking the walk as well as talking the talk, Razor is known for his emphasis on theming each campaign to give his players a clear identity and vision for success.

“I’ll take plenty of things that I have learned with me, but the All Blacks has its own incredible story. I’m a storyteller by nature so we want to get into the weeds – who are we? Where are we going? It’s my job to inspire them and connect us all. How do we create a culture for these guys to shine each and every week?

“One thing I am very proud of is that my teams are mentally and physically tough. When it comes to finals footy they step up. The biggest games, the biggest moments, that’s what we are about. This sport has given me a stage and I love that. Full stadiums, big games. It’s what drives me and it’s what drives great teams.”

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