Almost every four years New Zealand’s All Blacks enter the Rugby World Cup as favourites. No mean achievement for such a small nation. It is a credit to them that every time the event comes around everyone in the rugby world sees them as the team to beat.
Yet there is so much more to New Zealand Rugby than many of the sporting dynasties we see in the modern era. The All Blacks success is built on old school values, as well as some exceptionally talented players. There is no compromise if those talented players do not respect the values, they will not get to wear that famous black shirt too often.
Many teams bring in marketing gurus and motivational speakers to inspire and come up with catch phrases to inspire their teams. The All Blacks do not need such people.
Every All Black player is made aware of his responsibility “to leave the jersey in a better place.” This phrase says so much. It shows the duty each man who pulls that shirt over his head has. It makes them aware of the history of the team they are representing, and the humility that they must show wearing that Black shirt. The Maori call it mana; a word that implies bearing, stature and authority. You could say they are the symbol of a nation, as much as the silver fern. Yet their actions reflect those they represent.
In sport today there is a lot written about building a team culture, many look to try and do this but few achieve it. Why? It comes down to old fashioned words like values and responsibility.
All Blacks coaches know their responsibilities, and apart from making players aware of theirs in a game and on the pitch, they know that each member of the team realises the responsibility they have when they don that All Black jersey. It needs no re-enforcing unlike some other team colours.
One thing that New Zealand can be proud of, and other nations should take note, is how they evolved as a team to embrace players from different cultural backgrounds, Samoan, Fijian, Maori, European and Tongan. There was a deliberate shift to make all feel a part of a family. To share rather than to exclude.
Many a coach would have been lampooned if they professed “love” for their players. Yet coach Steve Hansen did just that in a television interview last week before the side left for England and to try and become the first rugby side to retain the World Cup. Hansen has been renowned for his dourness in the past so to make such a statement publicly shows the closeness of this group of young men.
Some may say Hansen is fortunate to have as his right hand man Captan Richie McCaw, the most capped player of all time with 142 games under his belt going into the World Cup. To McCaw it has been said that his All Black shirt has the power of taonga. Another Maori word which refers to a sacred object. He certainly plays like it does.
McCaw has captained his side 106 times since May 2006 and is undoubtedly one of sports great leaders. He was quoted as saying “History has shown what happened last week or last year means pretty much zero. It’s what you do from here on. These are the challenges you live for. You don’t walk around with a big grin on your face saying ‘this is pretty cool.’ It’s finding a way through.”
McCaw is an inspirational leader, he leads from the front. Having got the monkey off his back winning the World Cup in 2011, after a wait of 24 years, he will not be under any external pressure, just the pressure he puts on himself to honour the shirt he wears. If any player in the All Blacks needed an example of a man who embodies the values of an All Black they will no doubt look to McCaw, and they will want to give everything they have to give him the perfect send off. Yet this is the key, it is not about individuals, it is about the collective, all of those selected to represent their country and given the honour to wear Black.
Post Rugby World Cup 2015 there will be many retirements from the All Blacks team, including McCaw, but because of the old school values that they have instilled in being a part of such a special group of men, in four years time you can be assured that once again they will be among the favourites to lift the World Cup.