There’s the rugby and then there’s New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
Sports folk talk of leaving teams and jerseys better than when they found them.
Brent Impey joined the board of NZR in 2012 and rose to the role of chairman two years later. Over that span, the All Blacks won a Rugby World Cup and enjoyed a few outstanding seasons, such as 2016.
The team, you’d have to say though, are not better than when their outgoing chairman first found them. And that’s on him, to a degree.
The All Blacks sit third on the world rankings, following a 2020 season in which new head coach Ian Foster won just half of his six test matches in charge. There hasn’t been an All Blacks coach in more than 40 years with a career record as poor as that, with Laurie Mains (at 67.6 percent) the least successful since Eric Watson’s departure in 1980.
Foster might go on to become one of the great All Black coaches. Then again, he might not.
It’s results that matter to fans. They want to see the national team win – and win well – and when they don’t, they want someone to blame.
So, in a rugby sense, you could fairly argue that history won’t judge Impey that well. That he presided over a slight decline in a great All Blacks era and hasn’t created the environment to set them up for the future.
At a time when the team needed renewal, Impey instead gave them continuity.
But then there’s NZR.
Finances are one thing. Fans don’t want the governing body to go broke but – again – rights deals and cash reserves and sponsors logos aren’t as important to the man and woman in the stands as results are.
NZR were already forecasting deficits before COVID-19 hit and face some interesting financial times ahead. From this distance, it appears Impey has fulfilled his role of board chairman with diligence and done his best to ensure NZR stayed solvent.
Former Chiefs wing Bryce Heem has ended his time with French giants Toulon and returned to New Zealand due to "major family reasons".https://t.co/qvVoLlYfF9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 25, 2021
Where you feel he has enjoyed great success, though, is with NZR as an organisation.
Confidence in NZR among certain sections of the public is rarely that high. They view it as a boys’ club, where the chosen few are always forgiven for their various sins and difference isn’t tolerated.
The Chiefs’ so-called ‘Stripper Scandal’ was a case in point, where an incident was alleged to have occurred and NZR dealt with it in a fashion that didn’t go far enough for some people.
But change takes time at an outfit as traditional as NZR has been.
Impey used that period as an opportunity to try and drive that change. To talk passionately about ethnic and gender and sexual diversity and about NZR becoming a far broader church than it was before.
He set about trying to shed the organisation of its stuffy image and to make it more reflective of New Zealand as a whole. To create an environment where women, for instance, couldn’t just work or occupy board positions, but actively sought those roles because they knew they would be valued and respected.
You wouldn’t say NZR are the finished article just yet but, unlike the All Blacks, you feel they’re very well-placed build on the platform and momentum Impey has helped create.
In a rugby sense, you suspect history won’t judge Impey that favourably; that a juggernaut ground to a bit of a halt under his watch and that it hasn’t spluttered back into life yet.
NZR, though, is better than he found it and will only get better still.
On that score, the outgoing chairman can rightly reflect on his years at the helm with pride.
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