Ollie Phillips: Could culture issues weaken the All Blacks' dominance over world rugby?

 
Ollie Phillips
Follow Ollie
New Zealand Aaron Smith
Scrum-half Aaron Smith is one of the high-profile All Blacks to have been caught in a sex scandal (Source: Getty)

Recent events have raised questions over whether New Zealand’s dominance of world rugby could be eroding.

The opening two rounds of the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship campaign have been overshadowed by sex scandals involving scrum-half Aaron Smith and veteran flanker Jerome Kaino.

Steve Hansen’s imperious side will likely make it three wins out of three when they face Argentina this weekend, yet yesterday’s publication of a report declaring alcohol abuse, sexism and a sense of entitlement among players rife in the country’s national sport points to deeper cultural issues in New Zealand rugby.

They’re still the world’s No1 side and are not short of the quality needed to win games. For me they won that drawn third Test against the British and Irish Lions — they really should have been awarded a penalty at the end.

Read more: Why Saracens' Wolf Pack culture the root of club's continued success

In their last match against Australia we saw them put together a match-winning move to nip it at the last and add to an extraordinary number of games they’ve won in the last 10, 15 minutes of matches.

They’re the absolute masters of that and their ability to continue to work towards that goal and corral around each other to deliver is second to none.

But that all comes down to culture, team values and ethics. Unless the kind of behaviour we’ve seen make headlines gets eradicated, Hansen is going to have a big problem on his hands because it undermines the values and principles of your team.

It’s at the root of everything that underpins the All Blacks’ status as an iconic side, not just in rugby but world sport.

This is the first time in a very long time those values have been called into question. Hansen’s challenge is to ensure that this new era of All Blacks maintain the same standards of beliefs and principles as the players he inherited from Graham Henry.

RUGBYU-NZL-LIONS-ALL BLACKS
Sonny Bill Williams was sent off as All Blacks suffered their first home loss in nine years to the Lions earlier this year (Source: Getty)

Richie McCaw, Tana Umaga, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter. They understood what it meant to be an All Black and the life you were meant to lead.

Read more: What the All Blacks approach to leadership, identity and teamwork can teach businesses

Interestingly, some of those players have left that infrastructure and gone off the rails slightly. The contrast between being an All Black and not being an All Black has been very clear.

Hansen finds himself in one of the hardest situations for a coach to be in. England coach Eddie Jones is currently dealing with a similar issue over Denny Solomona and Manu Tuilagi who he kicked out of a training camp last month for a breach of discipline.

This week the Australian publicly opened the door for their return. It’s a careful balance between being fair and cognizant of the fact that people do make mistakes and not undermining yourself as a coach.

So this is a clutch moment, a potential turning point for Hansen and his All Blacks. Should he set a precedent and not pick those players who are the best in their position but not best for your culture and team? He has to ask if his squad still echoes those values rooted in the team’s history and the heritage of New Zealand and Maori culture.

Related articles