Tony Smith is a Stuff sports reporter
Opinion: It was possible to feel sorry for Ian Foster and Sam Kane for a fleeting moment.
Yes, that’s right – please do not adjust your newspaper glasses or digital equipment.
Got a lot of it – a torrential downpour of disdain on the All Blacks captain and coach since Ireland’s Test series loss.
But you started to get a sense of what Foster and Kane would have to deal with when a swarm of unmasked All Blacks marched through the Wellington airport concourse last Tuesday.
Are these carefree youngsters so immersed in their rugby bubble that they don’t know whether to wear masks in airport terminals during the outbreak of COVID-19 and influenza? Or do they think the rules for hoi polloi don’t apply to all blacks?
No wonder the other passengers were agape, as an unknown all black pose marched toward their departure gate. Who were those masked men?,” audiences would have murmured while describing a famous line from the Lone Ranger and Tonto TV series.
A fellow passenger who challenged the masked gangsters saying, “That’s an evil eye, you’re an all black”, was dismissed as “chill out”. Perhaps the scholar who said he might try to throw that thoughtless slur on the families of New Zealanders who have died from Covid.
The players have had their meetings, with the coaches, who are adamant that they can change this team.
The Kiwis are quick to forgive all blacks, yet the attitude of the open players is akin to arrogance. He might have said: “We are the mighty All Blacks – once the best rugby team on the planet – your rules don’t apply to us.”
Four masked players were photographed, but a fellow traveler told the Stuff that most of the players and staff in the All Black group of 10 to 20 players were not wearing face covers. An All Blacks spokesman later said that the players put on masks immediately after being photographed. He was also wearing a mask on his flight to Auckland.
The masked misdemeanor makes anyone wonder whether the All Blacks’ much-hyped “no dickheads” policy has been brought into contact.
Also, does the failure to follow a common sense directive during the COVID pandemic parallel the All Blacks’ recent inability to set and execute a consistent game plan on the pitch?
Shouldn’t all New Zealanders over the age of 12 know by now that masks should be worn in public places?
Why is slipping on a mask for All Blacks not as common as popping in a mouthguard?
Or does veteran All Blacks manager Darren Shand now have to stand outside an airport door like a newly admitted teacher at the school crossing: “Hold hands… hat, shirt, bata bullet… face mask”?
Heck, All Blacks even has its own trademarked mask brand, so missed a marketing opportunity to highlight their patented Silver Fern.
The airport’s pride came at a time when a nationwide attraction to all blacks must be aggressive to win back the hearts and minds of a disgruntled public.
Their shares have never faltered after four disappointing losses in their last five matches. Now is the time to open the doors of the dressing room to the noisy media after every match. All blacks should not be asked to “chill out,” to sign every proposed autograph book, to attend sponsorship events and school visits, and to smile at every passing punter.
Still, some of the All Blacks – who are up against Ireland – dropped the ball horribly in their first interactions with the public.
Not that we should be surprised. This is just the latest of several misconceptions that have happened in the past few weeks.
Match results aside, the Bungalows began with coach Ian Foster accepting public relations advice to cancel his Sunday press briefing following the loss in the third Test in Wellington. Foster should have been prepared to answer the perfectly valid question of whether he thought he was the best person to enlist the All Blacks ship.
But, at least Foster — unlike his boss — has held the lead for some time. New Zealand Rugby should market a new board game with “Where is the valley?” instead of “Where is the valley?”. Punters may be encouraged to see if they can spot the Teflon-suited NZR chief executive, who has so far been missing in dispatches (a vaguely-worded press release, aside).
Had Robo shown Nifty as a sidestep on the pitch he could have won more than nine caps. After sacking scapegoat assistant coaches Brad Moore and John Plumtree, they essentially left Foster to face media music alone. It’s hard to imagine that past CEOs Chris Moller and Steve Tew would have gotten out of hand in the time of the All Blacks crisis.
What Robinson and the All Blacks don’t realize is that they will be used as a yardstick to measure the mindset of the team every step of the way off the field.
The All Blacks have to keep an eye on every move. That’s why something as simple as wearing a mask matters.
Not all blacks should be role models for anything other than passing, catching, running and kicking correctly, but it is one thing that bends the laws to break the other, other New Zealand rules to follow. Totally different for.
Wearing a mask would be a way to show that all blacks believe they are still one of us.