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Chasing the All Black dream

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Ben Dirs | 21:12 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rotorua

"When a kid is born here in New Zealand, one of their aunties or uncles will buy them a little All Blacks jersey, a little ball, and he'll be dreaming of playing for the All Blacks from the time he laces up boots." Gordon Hunt, 1st XV coach, Rotorua Boys High School

Isaac hesitates when I ask him if he feels under any pressure to make it as an All Black. Eventually, and mercifully, his mate Mason fills the uncomfortable silence. "I feel the pressure," whispers Mason. "Just knowing there are other boys out there who want it and knowing you have to put in the extra yards. It's important, it's going to be my job for life."

On the walls of the principal's office are reminders that the path from Rotorua Boys High School 1st XV to the All Blacks is a well-trodden one. And not just the All Blacks: there, opposite a jersey signed by Jonah Lomu (not an old boy, but 'discovered' by principal Chris Grinter over in Auckland) is an England shirt worn by hooker Dylan Hartley.

"Dylan was a good student and had pretty good skills for a big fella," says Hunt. "But I meant to ask him when I last met him, 'what's with all these punch-ups?' He was a softie at school. He used to be into the cheap stuff but he never used to throw his dukes."

Dylan Hartley has established himself in the England side after leaving New Zealand. Picture: Getty

Hartley left Rotorua BHS in 2002, the year they won the national schools championship (scoring 137 tries in 21 games) and a year before they won the schools World Cup for the first time. Hartley's 1st XV skipper was All Black Liam Messam, one of three Rotorua BHS old boys who toured Europe with the All Blacks in 2009. "We don't like losing," says Hunt, and with players like that at his disposal, it does not happen very often.

Schools rugby in New Zealand is a big deal, closer in nature to high school sport in the United States than in the United Kingdom. Since last year, the knockout stages of the national schools championship have been aired on the Rugby Channel, while the biggest clashes attract more fans than some provincial matches.

"Our 1st XV boys end up being like demi-gods," says Hunt, who captained the 1st XV himself, back in 1993. "That's why New Zealand is so strong in rugby, because of our junior competitions. Our boys, they train every day, they're almost like professionals.

"It's ingrained in you as kids - if you can be good at rugby, you can make that All Blacks team, earn the ultimate status. But I preach to our boys to be realistic - only 1% of 1st XVs in any one year go through to pro rugby, and even less become All Blacks. You can be a star in your 1st XV, but at the next level you're just an average Joe."

Hunt cites the age-old enemies of youthful ambition, girls and booze, as the principal reason potential All Blacks lose their footing on the way to the summit, pivot and slip and ultimately come up short. "I had the same dreams as well," he says, "but I didn't work hard enough, and if you don't put the effort in, you don't really deserve it. You don't even deserve to dream it.

"Our first five-eighth, Ryubyn Vaipo, he should be an All Black. But he's got star status already, so the girls are chasing him and I've seen him drop off on his training. Part of our rugby culture is that we like a drink. That's been the ruin of many a good player, too.

"I've seen a few friends make it all the way, and the difference is discipline. They brushed off the beer and the girlfriends and that's why they became All Blacks - they wanted it more than others, and that's why they got it."

The Rotorua BHS 1st XV team which won the schools World Cup in 2003. Picture: Gordon Hunt

Professor Steve Jackson, who specialises in the socio-cultural analysis of sport at the University of Otago in Dunedin, believes having such narrow horizons has its drawbacks. "It's a bad thing to be so narrowly defined [by rugby union]," says Jackson. "It offers a very shallow view of who you are as a people and it's also bad for its citizens, in the sense that if you are a young person who doesn't like rugby, where do you find your place?"

Jackson says that Maori males, in particular, are ultimately defined by their prowess on the rugby field. "Playing games and physical activity is a huge component of what Maori do, as well as doing things collectively," says Jackson. "Historically, they're often channelled into rugby and not given the opportunities to pursue other avenues or play other sports.

"But also the reason Maori are so prevalent in rugby union is because of the spirituality of the team, the religious base of things. The strength often comes from this togetherness."

While Hunt agrees that this spiritual aspect produces plenty of powerful Maori-dominated schools sides, especially in and around the Maori heartland of Rotorua, he believes this intense love affair with the school jersey proves too intoxicating for many.

"That jersey means everything to us, too much sometimes," says Hunt. "They leave school and they lose their pride, their passion. They go to play club rugby and it's just not the same intensity or camaraderie and they end up dropping out.

"We've got a saying here: 'Boys High 'Til We Die'. That's inculcated into them. There's a brotherhood here at Rotorua Boys High School, they will do anything for their jersey and each other."

When I tell my editor I will be speaking to members of Rotorua BHS's 1st XV, he tells me he wants a photo: 'You, flanked by two of their biggest forwards.' It does not quite work out like that. Isaac Te Aute, who played for the 1st XV when he was just 14, must be 10 stone soaking wet. But in New Zealand rugby, size isn't everything, and Hunt is convinced one of Isaac's jerseys will be up there on the principal's wall one day fairly soon.


All Black Liam Messam (with ball) is another former pupil of Rotorua Boys High School. Picture: Getty

"When you watch our boys playing junior rugby, it's all about running with the ball, and they aren't restricted by their position," says Hunt. "We've had some English boys come out to our rugby academy and they're big, but they're drones, and even Dylan's like that now. The forwards have had it drummed into them what their role is, the way they play is dictated by the numbers on their back."

"We call our style of play 'mongrelism'," says 15-year-old Mason Walker, who along with Isaac, has been dragged out of a woodwork lesson to speak to me and who Hunt reckons will be playing for New Zealand schoolboys next season. "We're little, but rough and tough. Kicking? Nah, we run it from anywhere, that's a lot more enjoyable."

Mongrel-in-chief at Rotorua BHS is Teimana Harrison, captain of the 1st XV. But the dynamic open-side does not want to be an All Black, instead he dreams of following in the footsteps of Hartley and donning the white of England.

"I emailed [former England full-back] Dusty Hare at Northampton and said there's a boy here with British heritage," says Hunt. "Dusty must get plenty of emails like that, but Dylan came out and watched him play and told Dusty we need to get him for the team.

"The Bay of Plenty coach wants to keep him here and is trying to dangle the New Zealand Under-20 carrot in front of him, but there's no guarantees there. He'd probably crack it here, but he'll definitely crack it over there in England.

"I said to him, 'when you go to England, you're only going to be little, but your difference will be your ball-skills, your flair'. In terms of where Dylan was and Teimana is, Teimana is miles ahead. Watch out for that name. He's hugely excited about it, we all are."

Hunt takes me on a tour of his school's sporting relics - which include a golf shirt signed by Danny Lee, a PGA professional and another former pupil - and we end up in the inner sanctum, the school's 1st XV 'shed'. And there, above the exit, is that sign: 'Boys High 'Til We Die'. Touched by the hands of Hartley and many an All Black on their way to 'The One', as the 1st XV pitch is called, it is a beautiful reminder of how much rugby means to many a New Zealand schoolboy and the dizzy heights to which it can take you.

After Hunt concludes the tour, I tell him that something has been playing on my mind: "Mason and Isaac, they're not going to get into trouble for skipping that woodwork class?" "Nah," shrugs Hunt, "they're in the 1st XV now, they can pretty much do what they like."

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Ben,

    First rate blog, off the beaten track and an insight into the mentality of a truly rugby mad nation.

    It is interesting to note the academic viewpoint of all this focus on rugby, a lot I do not accept.

    My son played rugby from 6 years old, and learnt an awful lot about growing up, relying on your mates, and knuckling down to do the hard yards in training. His own character is now one to be envied, and he is in New Zealand now, initially for 12 months, but who knows.. But he treats the trip he is on now with the ease we used to look on as going to Blackpool!

    The game of rugby is the most wonderful environment to be around, with so many positive elements around it. Your blog raises the question,"can there be too much imposed too young which takes away the love and the benefits of the game in the name of success?"

    Excellent piece Ben, keep these coming please.

  • Comment number 2.

    Best rugby blog I have read in a very long time, perhaps ever.

    I wish there was a Scottish school that felt the same way about rugby.

    In the Borders maybe?

    I went to one of the biggest rugby schools in Scotland and our own 1st XV coach, a former Scotland A himself, was barely interested, never mind enthusiastic.

    I played in an U-16 Scottish Districts final and only the mums showed up to see us win.

    The last time I saw one of our only two pro-teams, Edinburgh Rugby play, someone shouted 'Come on Embra!' and you could hear the echo around Murrayfield.

    Fandabidozi.

  • Comment number 3.

    this perfectly sums up why i dont play rugby any more. nothing matches school rugby (and im english)

  • Comment number 4.

    saintsman1,

    when my son stopped playing for his club side at 17 I was so disapointed he did not experience the pleasures of open age rugby.

    Sure the rugby was good quality on the field, but there was no cameraderie or experience sharing with the opposition or the referee after the game, the lads had still to learn how to do this.

    Yes, the intensity is higher at good level school and junior rugby levels, but that is only half of what makes the game what it is.

    At 50, and going round clubs I used to play against, there are still people who I remember, and they remember me. We share in the BS talk of the old days and still enjoy being around the game now.

    I'm sorry you didn't get to experience this, but its never too late to go back! You're retired a long time, don't make it a day too long.

  • Comment number 5.

    New Zealand are the best team ever, but does it matter that they've only got one world cup to show for it?

    Everyone knows that NZ are the Brazil of football, the Harlem Globetrotters of basketball, but in the end, it can be put simply, New Zealand are underachievers.

    But that doesn't belie their reputation as the greatest, most entertaining and powerful Rugby Union nation on earth. Fair play.

  • Comment number 6.

    "When you watch our boys playing junior rugby, it's all about running with the ball, and they aren't restricted by their position," says Hunt. "We've had some English boys come out to our rugby academy and they're big, but they're drones, and even Dylan's like that now. The forwards have had it drummed into them what their role is, the way they play is dictated by the numbers on their back."
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Perfect, and just about sums up English rugby. Yes I am all for players fulfilling their designated roles within the team but excessive coaching has removed individual flair. Have the coaches a fear of failure? Is there a belief within the coaching fraternity, that English players cannot play a more expansive game?

    There has always been the view that we play to our strengths and yes it has had a measure of success in recent years but at what cost? I doubt that anyone could state we play attractive rugby [I am not talking of open rugby] but I rarely see a flash of individuality, an off the cuff moment from a player that changes a game.

    I refuse to believe that we do not have individual players who can create the proverbial "something out of nothing" in a game. It's more likely that they are discouraged from doing it by the coaches. Which in itself creates a fear mentality within the team.

    Sadly all I ever seem to hear from everybody is "the end justifies the means" but it's sport we are talking about and it's about more than just stopping the opposition and getting a result. I find it amazing, that for some of the coaching hierarchy, our style of play is the least important factor.

  • Comment number 7.

    here... saintsman1, you're spot on, it's not that we don't have schools that love rugby enough, and the borders is (i presume) where we're likely to find it, but we could actually have 4 or 5 schools( including those in Edinburgh) who are already rugby orientated.

    Surely enough to be pretty close to what we want to be, but how will we go about making people emphasise ball play, it's been our main problem in recent years because i havn't seen stats, but anecdotally thats the gap we have to work on.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Interesting blog. School Rugby for me was only a few months of the year, with abigger emphasis being put on football. However my years playing Rugby at University were amazing. The cameraderie there was amazing. Living with and drinking with the guys I played with week in week out really bound us together. I played for those guys. My last match for them was emotional. A cup final. I was in tears at the end. Proud to have won the match, devestated to not be pulling on that Jersey again. Have yet to find this at a club.

    I assume the reason for this blog is to compare the NZ style of junior rugby to the here in the UK.

    Firstly I am not totally sure if it is truely benificial to let the memebers of the first XV "do what they want". Also I would be worried about presure being put on kids by parents stood at the side of a junior match screaming their heads off with the emphasis being on winning. Surely at a younger age we want children to ENJOY rugby rather than win at all costs.

    One thing I do agree with is the way NZ focus on skill not so much size of the player. I recently went along to help my brother coach a junior team, the kids were around 12. The "head" coach was telling me how by now the kids had all found their positions and would stick with them!
    I was baffled, how can a 12 year old know what size he will be when he is 20? But if this is what it is like at grass routes no wonder our forwards are so undynamic.
    I dont want England to try and be the All Blacks, but maybe we could learn a thing or two about how they train at grass routes.

    One thing I would have liked to have seen in this article is why Teimana Harrison wants to play for England? Does he just see it as an easier route to success? Or does he see and equal pride in playing for England?

    Great blog though!

  • Comment number 10.

    Ben

    Well done I too think this is a very good piece. NZ very different from schoolboy rugby in England as I recall it. I am old enough that Rugby was still really only played in the "upper-class" schools, apart from that is from my own. I know thats sweeping but I can't remember playing any other Comps.

    My school was a Comprehensive in west London. Now we played cricket, football and Rugby in fact our rugby coach was none other than John Taylor the Welsh and British and Irish Lion number 8........It was odd because we played all over the South but always against grammar Schools. We did train twice a week and yes the team were together from memory. But to play you had to get the pass marks in all the other subjects so it was a win win.

    Does not appear like that from your Blog in NZ, and maybe not now at home, I am right in thinking if you are good enough for the 1stXV we will worry about the academic subjects some other time? Actually thinking about that most ABs I have met albeit 10 or so years ago have a myriad of qualifications ...Ben do you know what it is like now ??

  • Comment number 11.

    @ 10 Makes me think of the film Coach Carter. To be in the team you've got to have the grades!

  • Comment number 12.

    This is an extreme case of course, 1st XV boys school and good record . Having grown up here, I can tell you that rugby is played in every school, as are many other sports, and it certainly is at some stage played by all the kids. Possibly even many girls now i think , especially with touch rugby.

    I think it is enjoyed by most but is not forced on people and most schools let you choose what you want to do. People may play for a few years of school then never really again.

    There is nothing elitist or associated with social class at all ..

    Consequently we all understand it and love watching ...

    Probably the same profile as football(soccer) in your country .. which everyone has a go at here also.

  • Comment number 13.

    @TJB47: Whilst football is played by all at some point here in the Uk, we are all far from love watching it. I find it incredibly dull. I even find it boring to play these days. Unless it is a smaller teamed game.
    But I understand your comparison. Rugby is becoming less elitist. Though there seems to be a lack of decent Union in the North (its a shame Rugby League is a round in some ways). Sadly I don't see Rugby over taking football as the No 1 sport as it is simpler and less demanding. But it is great to see the game expanding and being spread around. School of Hard Knocks and similar programs need to be used more!

  • Comment number 14.

    Brilliant article, found myself totally engrossed. So much better than the usual bland insights into NZ rugby culture.

    There is - understandably I know - an incredible arrogance underpinning so many NZ coaches and even school teachers it seems. The 'drones' of England are sneered at, yet which side has been in the last two world cup finals? That's not to say that as an Englishman I don't hugely admire the All Black style of play, but perhaps until they just start to appreciate they don't have everything totally right, the international pain & suffering may continue...

  • Comment number 15.

    @ 13

    you say that football is the number 1 sport in the uk because it is simpler and less demanding, well maybe it's rugby's own fault that its not the number 1 played sport. Maybe if the rules of rugby were made easier then more people would enjoy it.

    when i was at secondary school we played a lot of rugby, however we were never really taught the rules. I feel this may have been because they are much more difficult than certain rules in football.

    thats not to say that I think football is the better sport. I enjoy playing rugby, i'm just better at football which is why I would choose the round ball over the egg. Not just because the game is easier to understand.

    I would agree that rugby is more demanding and i think this is a good thing. The youngsters that are determined enough to be able to deal with the demands of rugby will probably fair much better later in life than those that decide it is too tough and just stick with football.

    I think this is probably the best blog i have read for a while and really shows the emphasis that the AB's put on their training and winning.

    "(its a shame Rugby League is a round in some ways)." Why is it a shame that there is a different form of the game? I think it is better as it gets more people watching the sport. Even if it is a different form.

  • Comment number 16.

    @ 14

    BOOM!!! hit the nail on the head! completely agree. I think the arrogance of the AB's is one of their major downfalls. As much as i admire them for the way they go about training the players at such a young age I think they need to look at the fact that they haven't one a world cup for so long and try to realise the reasons why

  • Comment number 17.

    Rugby's own fault? If we simplified the rules it would not be rugby. So that is a stupid suggestion. And yes football is simpler but that is not a slant against it. It just makes it more accessable to more people at any given time.

    What I meant with my rugby league comment is that if there was only one form of the sport, there would be more people playing it (one code rather than two), and hopefully that would mean there would be more top quality players around, and then maybe our national team would benifit a bit more. However I cannot hate League when it has given us players like Ashton and Jason Robinson!

  • Comment number 18.

    @ 17

    I'm not saying that rugby should change the rules now to make them easier to understand, but when the governing bodies first set the rules i feel they have over complicated them and as you say, it makes it less accessible to people.

    i don't think you can categorically say that with only one form of the sport more people would play/watch it. the rugby league fans may not enjoy Union and so decide to watch something else instead

  • Comment number 19.

    Interesting to read how NZ do it at the grassroots level; professionalism that we could certainly learn from.

    Just to make you aware though, the word Maori is pluralised, to add an 's' is actually offensive and alludes back to colonialism. All Maori word end in vowels - thanks.

  • Comment number 20.

    Fantastic blog.

    However.. @16 and I suspect many others..

    Personally I am rather sick of hearing that the AB's are arrogant. On my travels I have met so many people (from the UK) who accuse us (the team and their supporters) of being arrogant. Yes, as supporters we think we are going to win every game; some of that is confidence in our team, but some of it is just genuine hope. Wouldn't you expect to win most games if the team you supported had a pretty astounding win/loss record??

    However I'd like to hear how the AB's have displayed noticeable arrogance when approaching a game?? A few loud-mouthed supporters do not speak for an entire nation or their rugby team..

    I think it would be fair to attribute some of our poor RWC playoff record to 'losing on the day' and the rest to our inability to perform in high-pressure games. Perhaps you could stop and listen to the right people and you may discover that the AB's are rather humble.

    Your post literally says the AB's haven't won a world cup for so long because they're arrogant amongst other things. Very insightful.

  • Comment number 21.

    20

    So calling England's player "drones" is not arrogant???

  • Comment number 22.

    @ 20

    yes i am calling the Ab's arrogant. Thats my opinion of them. Through interviews i have seen of players past and present and coaches as well i have thought them very arrogant.

    They seem to believe they have a god given right to win every game. They do not appear to be gracious losers at all.

    Thats not to say that all New Zealanders are arrogant. The many that i have met appear to be genuine people who are proud of their heritage and so they should be.

    There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and in my opinion the AB's are arrogant.

    How's that for insightful? in fact, i don't care what you think. Don't comment on my posts again!

  • Comment number 23.

    Ben

    Very good article hope you are breathing a sigh of relief flooding your first two. Appears like most thing you have done a great job this time:)

    It is a strange thing that Rugby, and Cricket from what I understand, in the UK has in the past be associated with the so called "upper class". I think I am safe is saying that is not the case in NZ for whatever reasons.

    I think that Mr Hunt could have not used the term Drone however rude at best and yes arrogant at worst.

    Ben did you feel offend when he called your countrymen Drones?

  • Comment number 24.

    Sorry for the typos on my phone

  • Comment number 25.

    18

    I think your missing the point. Rugby was and still is a game you play because you love it, it was never meant to be for the spectator and they never really cared if it became more popular than football. Thats why it didn't become professional till the 1990's. Not trying to sound elitist but the game was for upper class men who played in there free time with their mates who also enjoyed the game they didnt really care how many people showed up to watch.

  • Comment number 26.

    @ 25

    I was replying to an earlier post when i wrote that and it was to do with making the game easier to play. I understand that most people play/watch rugby because of a love for the game but i was replying to the post about the sad fact that rugby isn't the number 1 sport in the UK.

    i wasn't trying to undermine the origins of the game

  • Comment number 27.

    @21.

    Drones is a descriptive term which works very well in the context it was used. We might agree or disagree with the sentiment, but it is certainly not arrogance.

    I'm not sure why anyone would take offence at that. The point he is making is about a different approach, and it is a point which is made in the comments above and also frequently in public forums and media in this country. Just because it comes from a foreigner doesn't make that person arrogant.

    Look at it this way. By focussing on specialist positions being specialist, England have been more successful in knock out competitions than the worlds best team in the last 2 decades. Of course, in the next month, that may change ...

  • Comment number 28.

    Mike B

    Sugest you look up the word Drone other that a Hum it means lazy non worker ....It was arrogant. the guy said that we here NZ do is turn boys into great ABs, and what happens in England is that they turn good players into Drones...... Arrogant and pompous which surprises me because that is not my view of the people I have met here thus far

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Ben, I covered the Christchurch schools rugby for the local Press newspaper during the winter down here. Being originally from UK I was amazed at the passion and organisation that goes on behind the scenes. Even the hakas are legendary (as impressive as the All Blacks doing it) Some people may view these schools' obsession with rugby as over the top, but i think it breeds discipline and commitment and goes along way to producing sporting excellence.

  • Comment number 30.

    @ Liverpaul........there is nothing over complicated about Rugby, it is just more complex. And I think you can say that if there was only one form more people would watch. Lets Say there are 4m fans of union. 4m fans of league. If you got rid of leaue, maybe only 1m would convert to Union with the other 3m turning to something else, that would still leave union with 5m fans. Same could be said for players.

    And @ your 22 post. WOW. Kettle? Pot? If you come in hear prepare for your view to be shot down. (funny that you argues with dierpaul85...brother?)

    Drone maybe over harsh, wouldnt really call it arrogant, more.....naive really or rude. But as Mike B said, there is a difference and that is NH focus more on specialist positions. Which does have its adavantages.

  • Comment number 31.

    Surely there cannot be anything so ignorant as to brand a whole people as arrogant? All you need is five seconds' thought to dispel that idea.

  • Comment number 32.

    @28 Churguys I don't think they meant drone to mean "lazy non worker" (that maybe the dictionary deffinition) but rather that they are non thinkers in the way that they just stick to their role ie scrum, line out, ruck, maul, crash ball.

  • Comment number 33.

    @ 30

    If people want to try and shoot down my opinion that is fine, at the end of the day everyone can express their opinion as will I.

    I don't think you can say that more people would watch. Not for definite. I'm pretty sure that yes some of them would, but maybe not a significant amount.

    I also disagree that it is naive, in my opinion it is arrogance. naive would have been not understanding what the statement would mean to some people. He was disrespecting the coaching methods in the UK and it sounded to me like he was basically saying "our methods are better" I feel that is an arrogant statement. Don't you?

  • Comment number 34.

    @ 31....who is that comment aimed at?

  • Comment number 35.

    @33 Yes I would bet everything I own that people would turn to Union in the wake of League being deminished. But I will never have a chance to prove you wrong. New players coming into league would have more of an appittude for Union than any other sport so I think there would be a significant number of new players.

    It is naive in the sense that he doesnt fully understand the role of a "specialist" position. Hence possibly the lack of acheivment by NZ rugby in the last 24 years.
    So if someone expresses their opinion that x is better than y and they happen to own x that makes them arrogant? Its just their opinion and like you said they have a right to express it!

  • Comment number 36.

    Hemmy

    Just been through the posts can see anywhere anybody said

    "Surely there cannot be anything so ignorant as to brand a whole people as arrogant? "

    I spoke of the Coach others of the ABs????

    .

  • Comment number 37.

    @ 35

    "So if someone expresses their opinion that x is better than y and they happen to own x that makes them arrogant"

    EXACTLY!! Finally on the same wavelength. glad i managed to get you to see sense.

    ok, i will admit that there would be some that would turn from league to union, but like you said, you can't prove it. ;)

    @ 36

    I also do not understand what he is talking about. Hopefully he will explain.

  • Comment number 38.

    Daverichallen

    It is a disparaging remark No? But I do not agree with that view of English rugby players. He is just dismissing the English way of doing and playing rugby.......saying our way is better based on what..results in the RWC????

    Anyway that is how I felt when I read the comment

  • Comment number 39.

    As a qualified rugby coach i feel that the gap now between the "top tier" sides and what used to be called the "minows" is diminishing very quickly. Evoultion of the game has moved on and now he athtleic physics of the professional players means a bigger and hard training regime.
    Production of the physical player combined with good skills is borne from youth and good coaches can maintain this deveolpment in the indiviual. Howerver the big step is from school rugby to county etc and once again Newzeland do this well, england are trying with the acadamys but we need to catch up.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ 37. No liverpaul we are not on the same wavelength. That was a question, I was not agreeing with you. If I say that my x is better than your y and give reasons as to why, it is not arrogant. Its called making a statement and backing it up with evidence. That then allows people to break your statement apart and show the evidence to be lacking. if I was to say my x s better than you y because it is mine. That is arrogant.
    The "drone" comment was back up with a little evidence. It is his opinion. Not fact. You seem ready to give your own opinion but not ready to take other peoples. Are you sure you are in the right place?

  • Comment number 41.

    Churguy

    guy said that we here NZ do is turn boys into great ABs, and what happens in England is that they turn good players into Drones.

    That is not what he was saying and you have chosen to quote the headmaster out of context. Yes his choice of words could maybe have been better, but he does have a point. When you compare the skill sets from both countries.

  • Comment number 42.

    I am happy to take other people's opinion, i may not agree with it but having read your last post i understand why you don't feel that it was arrogance. It hasn't changed my opinion on it, but i can at least understand why you have your view on it now.

    and i was being sarcastic with "EXACTLY!! Finally on the same wavelength. glad i managed to get you to see sense."

    i do feel you should read comment 38 though.

  • Comment number 43.

    @ 38 Churguys: I just feel it is an over reaction. He thinks their way is better. Like you said based on what....the way they run with the ball? That seems to be his evidence. But as you mentioned we (the english) can turn around and say "No. Our way is better because it breeds results when it matters, just look at our WC form compared to yours."

    I don't think we should take offence from a comment like that.

  • Comment number 44.

    Porrige

    Correct he should have chosen his words with more thought. Happy you can see that. Now I bet if I called NZ players a bunch of show ponies how would you react?????

  • Comment number 45.

    Hi Churguys,

    I haven't looked up 'drones' because the meaning is clear. I understood it to mean that English players are very well drilled in the technical roles of their specialist positions. That may be to the detriment of the expression of natural free running talent, which is the development path which his organisation adopts. I think we have to recognise that where natural free running ability does occur, such as Ben Foden and to a lesser degree Chris Ashton, it is often seen as a weakness in English players rather than a strength - BF should have been playing for England 2 years before he eventually did, I offer as evidence. He wasn't selected because he didn't fit into the structured game plan that England find so successful.

    What Mr Hunt is saying, having witnessed one of his own former star players transformation partly in evidence, is what a large number of people in world rugby say. It is not insulting to recognise a different development approach and it is not unfair to suggest that in England, greater emphasis is placed on developping the specialist skills of positions possibly at the detriment of the free running approach he is advocating. He naturally thinks his approach is better, and people involved in the development of English rugby will naturally think their emphasis on structure specialist skills is better. To be aware of and to comment on the other is not arrogant!

  • Comment number 46.

    Mike

    I hear what you are saying. I have to say I still find the term "drone" in the context it was used was disparaging. Ok we can agree to disagree. I wonder what would be being said had I describe NZs rugby style as "all froth and no substance " as it once was by a certain Welshman...I remember the fuss that caused ...

  • Comment number 47.

    @ 45 Mike B.....I am with you on this one. Nicely put.

    Ben Foden and Ashton were brought into the English side at the tale end of a poor 6N, when Ashton had been the top try scorer in the premiership the season before. Foden being instrumental in his tries. If England had them in from the start of the 6N maybe it would have been a diff result against Scotland!
    Down to the England Coaches Foden is not used to the best of his ability like he is at Northampton!

  • Comment number 48.

    @ 43

    I don't think churguys was saying that our way is better, and no one on here is saying its better. I don't feel we are arrogant enough to say that and actually mean it.

    We all know that no countries coaching methods are perfect and we could possibly learn from the ABs but i think he could have been far more respectful in how he described the English players.

    Like you have said before, the best thing to have would be to teach all the youngsters EVERY basic skill and then as they progress and their bodies develop start specialising more.

  • Comment number 49.

    Davec

    Did you get my response to your question re the threat of England to the ABs I see they have stopped that post and I have been out?

  • Comment number 50.

    I was absolutely not saying our way is better I was reacting to the term drone which obviously has a different connotation to me than others. I am prepare to say maybe I saw more reds under the bed than are....I think :)

  • Comment number 51.

    45.
    Voice of reason.

  • Comment number 52.

    Churguys

    It is actually okay to say that your way is better and having the success that England have had at the world cup could go a certain amount of way to proving you right.
    From what I can see you are being over sensitive to any percieved slant against England. On the other two Blogs by the same originator you have got stuck into him for being far too critical of England, when in fact many of his comments were more than justified.

  • Comment number 53.

    An interesting insight into a different world. "An excellent piece of work", as I am sure Mr. Hunt would have said !

  • Comment number 54.

    I would say that a decent test is to see how many of the AB squad (i.e. the best players in NZ) would displace players in the England squad (the best players in England). I would suggest that a great many of them would do so, and the same could be said for most of our world cup squads.

    I am a bit of an idealist, but I believe that professional sport is there to entertain and to impress, and the rugby that the ABs have played for the last 10 years at least has done just that. English rugby has done it in fits and spurts, but all too infrequently. I don't like how English children (I can't speak for the rest of the home nations) are labelled as forwards or backs at an early age, seemingly based on prepubescent body shape. Bishop's School in South Africa play with no numbers on their backs, as they don't believe that players should be limited by their position. They can all run, catch and pass and surprise surprise play an exciting and entertaining brand of rugby.

    Whilst for the pros it is all about winning, as that is where the money is, I can't help but think that a bit more emphasis on building skills and nurturing creativity wouldn't go a miss in the English game.

  • Comment number 55.

    Really, really interesting.
    I'm not offended by the word "drone" but I actually think its not 100% true what he said about players over here in England. It seems to me that its only in the England team that we have such a strict gameplan imposed - alot of junior rugby is played with width and freedom and some fair degree of skill.

    One thing we do seem focused on here is size. I was speaking last night to one of my u16 players who was playing county last season but has been told that this year he isn't large or "muscly" enough which is just crazy as he is extremely good and just about our best tackler. Take the second rows out of the equation and when you look at England, well to me anyway, I see Rugby League.

    But back to the blog - I'm not sure I'd want my lad training like a professional at such a young age. The body needs time to grow properly and I'm not one who wants to see 14 year olds doing trying to bulk up through strict weight regimes and controlled diets. Being young should be fun and not all about an obession with winning, which is what it seems to me these guys have.

  • Comment number 56.

    Daverichallen – To be honest, my aim to begin with wasn’t to highlight the differences in culture between NZ and England, but when I started writing it occurred to me I was, in a way, penning a live letter to my old school. At the risk of sounding like Max Bygraves, let me tell you a story about how rugby can be played in an English school…

    Off the Southend Arterial, just down the road from Romford, is a school that has no right to be good at rugby – the Campion School, Hornchurch, the only comprehensive to win the national schools cup and, I believe, the only one to get as far as the semis (as my 1st XV did, in 1994). Its rugby philosophy was created by a small man called John Davies, who played in the golden era of Welsh rugby, and it was a joyous, and ultimately very effective one, which was this: run it from everywhere, never hog the ball and most important of all, never, ever kick it. It didn’t matter to him if the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th year got smashed every week, because he knew we’d do the opposition in the only games that mattered, the 1st and 2nd XVs.

    This ethos was taken to extreme, often ludicrous, lengths: I remember playing against our local rivals once (about the only other school we played in Essex) and our winger went the entire length of the pitch, past about 10 players (if my memory serves, he did a George Best at one point, turning round to beat the same player twice) and just as he was about to touch down, the ref, also our coach, whistled him for what was called at our school ‘me-ball rugby’.

    Getting stuffed out of sight by mannish-looking public school boys wasn’t very pleasant, but I still remember the eureka moment, when everything clicked into place: it was against Sevenoaks, a huge public school in Kent which seemingly had about 40 pitches, and we had a penalty under our own posts. Because we were in the 5th form (we couldn’t kick until the 6th form), we had to tap and go, the ball went through about 15 pairs of hands, we went the length of the pitch and scored under the posts. “Oh, so that’s what it’s all about…”

    I remember one coach delivering an impassioned pre-match speech about how all the toff schools thought we were these rough, tough Irish Catholic kids and we fell about laughing – we weren’t exactly the Bash Street Kids. But his point, I think, was that, as well as talking differently to them, we played

  • Comment number 57.

    ... the game dfferently, we were mavericks, wild and unpredictable – if they kick it in-goal, you’re going to run it back at them and they won’t have a ruddy clue what’s going on, because they’ll never have seen anyone do that before.

    This idea that we were a little bit whoa, a little bit whey, was often taken to ridiculous, self-perpetuating lengths. I remember, for example, a player from our 5th form team doing a bottle of cider on the way to Greshams public school (to be fair, Norfolk is a long way, and being state school kids, we weren’t really into rugby songs) and later watching him running down the wing, his socks flapping all over the place in the mud and the rain, because he’d forgotten his boots. The funniest part? We won the match.

    When Millfield and other big guns came to visit, or schools from Aussie, SA and NZ, I’d watch them eyeing up our pitches, our creaking changing rooms, the weights that had been there since 1962, and get a bit chippy about it: wait til we get you on the pitch. Oh, and by the way, my old man, the one standing next to your old man in the wax jacket, he doesn’t even know the rules. Pathetic, I know.

    What’s my point? It’s that while in NZ that’s just the way teams play, in England we were considered a bit weird, a bit ‘out there’. But, for that reason, I can massively identify with this idea of being too in love with the school shirt. Afterwards, I think a lot of us realised we had been greater than the sum of our parts, that the joy had been from the way we played the game and the camaraderie that brought about. Alas, it was never the same again…

  • Comment number 58.

    Oh, and by the way, Mr Hunt was a very nice man and I'm sure he didn't mean any offence by the use of the word 'drones'. Blimey, some of you lot are very sensitive...

  • Comment number 59.

    Great blog, although I don't believe that a nation should play just one sport in detriment of every other sport available. Can anyone name a NZ athlete, Footballer, Boxer (well David Tua, and he fell short), etc ..

    NZ rugby has one major thing going for it and that is flair, with all of England's success would a non-English fan put his hand in his pocket to pay and watch them play ? - No Way. Would a non-english fan even switch channels on the TV ?

    Sport is to win, it is also there to entertain. If the sport is to evolve and grow it needs to be attractive. English rugby is boring beyond belief, hasn't always been that way, but the current side is the least attractive of the last 12 years to watch.

    And before anyone starts, I'm actually %50 English, so I'm not an England hater - I just like to see attractive rugby.

  • Comment number 60.

    Ben

    Please tell us that you don't really know the exact dates the weights had been there since ...

    lol

  • Comment number 61.

    Cheers for the input Ben. I agree people are being over sensative. Many other talking points in this blog than that one word.
    Also worth pointing out he seemed to be referring to 'some English blue's they had at the academy and Mr Hartly. (although a wider comparison probably wasn't far away)
    kids these days seem to be obsessed with kicking. But I'm not totally sure if I would coach kids to never ever kick, but that's just me.

    And wanakaxv I did get your comment about the threat England are. But how about if you took saturdays game against France as a threat on gs own? Do you see yourself loosing?

  • Comment number 62.

    Quick google of his Teimana Harrison and it brings up alot of stories in the New Zealand press. Seems he has accidently killed one of his friends from the school, Another promising rugby player.

  • Comment number 63.

    Mike B - Haha. 1962, my friend, was when the school was founded. That weights stack was almost mythical, many a tale of some old boy from way back when lifting such and such with only his little finger... all lies, of course...

  • Comment number 64.

    Wanaka XV,

    Just wanted to catch up from a previous blog.

    No slight or insult was aimed at you (or indeed anyone else) regarding my comments on England and people "having a go".

    I have read a lot of your posts and find them often well balanced and thought out.
    (my, am I getting warm and fuzzy now)

    I find it interesting now, that NZ are having to defend this "arrogance" tag, (something we English have had to do for a long time) and don't find it too comfortable. I think we should all be careful how we go about this subject.

    As for footbal being the No1 sport in England; why wouldn't it be? It was well established before we invented Rugby. Also most schools only had concrete or tarmac playgrounds (some even on the roof) so who would be diving over or tackling? Or then again maybe that's why we breed such strong front rowers?

    How should the game be played?

    The game should be played the way the English invented it! That's how it should be played! If other teams want to say, "Oh we play our outside backs this way" or " the kicking game is boring" then they should go and invent another game. Sadly of course they can't. But they also can't criticize England for the way they play, because we invented it......and that's how it should be played.
    I've watched a lot of games (including the last NZ v AUS game) where the ball was tucked under the jumper and was every bit as exciting as anything else that had been played.

    Sorry Wanaka, none of this is aimed at you. It was more of a general comment on the blog, but it was easier to keep going rather than post twice.

    my apologies.

  • Comment number 65.

    Very good blog, Ben. It was important of you to note that the transition in NZ from school - and U19 global dominance - is not easy.
    One of the previous bloggers has mentioned Bishops in Cape Town and a similar piece on their rugby ethic or that of their great rivals Rondebosch would be interesting. From memory of a rather nasty defeat by the latter, they combine size, skill and not-a-little aggression in all positions.
    "Drones" is not offensive, it is true of most England teams with the exception of the 2003 vintage. The unique feature of that team was the intelligence in every position. Yes, England made the Final in 2007 but only the blinkered would think they weren't the second best side in the world at that time.

  • Comment number 66.

    Sorry...were not weren't in my last line!

  • Comment number 67.

    5.At 00:13 21st Sep 2011, Gavelaa wrote:
    New Zealand are the best team ever, but does it matter that they've only got one world cup to show for it?

    Everyone knows that NZ are the Brazil of football, the Harlem Globetrotters of basketball, but in the end, it can be put simply, New Zealand are underachievers.

    But that doesn't belie their reputation as the greatest, most entertaining and powerful Rugby Union nation on earth. Fair play.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Agreed and maybe so as under-achievers at the World Cup once or twice but if there was ever a fixture conflict between an All Black game and an England game I know which one I would be trying to get tickets to..... and I dont think I would be alone.

    Many schools in NZ have teachers and headmasters who played rugby to a very high level if not the highest and their enthusiam for the sport is instilled in the pupils but not forced. My intermediate school was a little different (Headmastered by ex-All Black and Auckland coach - the late Eric Boggs) - we had 3 rugby pitches, one hockey pitch, an inter-class rugby tournament.... and soccer was a dirty word !

  • Comment number 68.

    "Can anyone name a NZ athlete, Footballer, Boxer (well David Tua, and he fell short), "

    Well yes heaps. The idea that rugby is the one and only pursuit in NZ is absurd.

    But as this article is about rugby in schools; yes the game has considerable standing in some of the traditional boys schools like Rotorua High School but in many comprehensive type schools it is the First XI Soccer team or the basketball team or similar that often hold as much if not more kudos. And I did not aspire to play rugby for New Zealand; instead I and many of my colleagues wished to succeed in other sports. It is a myth to suggest that every kid in NZ dreams of wanting to be an All Black; more often than not these days they want to be Messi.

  • Comment number 69.

    is it me or is it weird that the white players in the all blacks team doing the haka,they should be in the england team,it is strange to see it,hope england can beat scotland and get to the semi,cant see any better than that,with johnson in charge he is clueless,what was wrong with ashton(world cup final not good enough)

  • Comment number 70.

    As a footnote rugby is in trouble in New Zealand and if NZ does not win the RWC whilst not ringing the death knell will encourage furtehr decline and disinterest. Local clubs are folding for lack of numbers; big rugby clubs have half the number of sides they did a decade ago and soccer has long taken over as the main sport of kids and there is increasingly disinterest in the NZ rugby machine which is seen as arrogant and removed. You only have to look at crowd numbers for the recent Super 15 and the perilous position of NZRFU finances to see that all is not as it should be.

  • Comment number 71.

    Interesting that Gavelaa compared the All Blacks to the Harlem Globetrotters in the context of being the best because, paradoxically, they were a showbiz team of entertainers, formers basketball superstars, who only played exhibition games. Did someone earlier level something akin to this as an accusation at the All Blacks?

    Regarding the end of my first post earlier, I think it is undeniable that the All Blacks are the best team in the world and have been for some time. This is held up by their playing record and their No 1 ranking since before Pontius got his pilot's licence. They are not unbeatable, thanks to the beauty of sport, and that is why remarkable performances, mostly by France, have denied them more Rugby World Cups. But who can honestly say that they have not entered every RWC without the favourite's mantle (even if jointly held on occasion)?

    (No, I'm from GB) ;-)

  • Comment number 72.

    "is it me or is it weird that the white players in the all blacks team doing the haka"

    Yes it probably says a lot about your personality!

  • Comment number 73.

    fallingTP

    How are your plans for heading home going? I'm due to finish up working on this project this coming weekend. So will be back in the Bay hopefully Sunday in time for the Sco v Arg match.
    Have tried contacting your cricket clubs facebook page, but as yet my offer of friendship has been unaccpeted.

    Did have I offend you with my mud hut comment?;-)

  • Comment number 74.

    Porridge don't look at it that much but will this evening. Arrive back on 8th; down to Bay later in the month. Will look for your message

  • Comment number 75.

    Hey Ben, please could you do a story about Grey College Secondary School (Bloemfontein, South Africa)?

    Current Springbok squad has 6 players that came from this school (The du Plessis brothers, CJ van der Linde, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and Heinrich Brussouw). Five of those six also won the RWC with SA in 2007. This must be a record?

    The school has produced many rugby greats (e.g. Morne du Plessis) and haven't done too badly in other sports either.

    Great blog.

  • Comment number 76.

    TP, sounds a good plan. Is your family still in the Broovale Road area?

  • Comment number 77.

    No not for a long time. Old man lives in Hastings near the RSA and mum is in Gisborne

  • Comment number 78.

    Quote .. "When you watch our boys playing junior rugby, it's all about running with the ball, and they aren't restricted by their position," says Hunt. "We've had some English boys come out to our rugby academy and they're big, but they're drones, and even Dylan's like that now. The forwards have had it drummed into them what their role is, the way they play is dictated by the numbers on their back."

    Remember the Zinzan Brook drop goal at the SA world cup ... could you ever imagine an English no 8 doing that ? .. or indeed what his coach would say if he tried ?

    As for "arrogance" read confidence,

    The positional "drones" .. this is a result of coaching shortcuts. Instead of teaching skills and developing ball play and handling skills, we value wins above all else .. this is the same in football with kids... we coach them into positions that we think will fit them, coach the positional techinicalities to give them the edge and discourage them from trying to use and develop their skills which initially may result in them losing a game or two .. as per Bens old school team.

    Give kids time and they flourish and develop their own game skills and understanding ... As long as wins in junior games are sort after, its more than likely at the expense of skill development. This metality continues up the age groups until you end up with players only fit to fulfil one role on the pitch.

  • Comment number 79.

    BTW .. excellent blog Ben.

  • Comment number 80.

    Londoner in Exile (#6) - yep. England produces plenty of players with great natural ability. Off the top of my head, Simpson-Daniel, Strettle, Tait, Balshaw in the last few years, and there are many more. But they simply aren't trusted - they don't conform to the solid, stolid, "hard yards" template that virtually all English coaches in all sporting history have demanded. Individual brilliance, flair and unpredictability are taboo - they mark you out as not being a "team player".

    Same in football, where some of our best players ended their careers with a handful of caps (or none at all). And in cricket, where for decades unorthodoxy of any kind was simply not permitted (with occasional exceptions like Randall and Tufnell).

    That's what frustrates me - England does have the ability to produce outstanding sports teams, but we actively choose not to do so. Doubt it will ever change, especially not now our rugby and cricket teams are increasingly rest of the world teams rather than representative English ones. We'll import talented players (although not talented enough to represent their own countries) and homegrown ones will simply be ignored.

    This insight into New Zealand schools rugby is a real eye-opener. Things are not so different here, but aside from our coaching deficiencies, you can tell that the intensity is simply lower - the proof of the pudding is in the standard of players who eventually make it through to the international sides.

    For a country as small and isolated as New Zealand to have been so dominant in any sport is a glowing testimony to their methods. We could learn a lot from them if we chose.

  • Comment number 81.

    Excellent blog Ben, I really enjoy reading these slightly "left field" blogs of yours (much more than the ones about which big team played well and which didn't).

    I grew up in Texas and high school sports are exactly the same as you described here. When I played American football we trained 5 days a week and had a proper off-season strength and conditioning programme. At some of our big games we would get close to 10,000 spectators and yes if we were varsity (same as 1st XV) the teachers were slightly more "lenient".

    When I moved back to the UK and completed my final year of school here I was shocked by how insignificant and frankly disregarded sport was in school. I am now approaching 23 and have been playing and loving rugby for three years. All of my teammates who went to school here (UK) had the same experience. School sports are at best ignored and at worst disdained and seen as an annoying distraction from real schooling. This lack of competitiveness at school shows in later life with a worse work ethic and people believing things will come to them rather than having to strive and compete to be the best.

  • Comment number 82.

    Ben, Great blog; I always enjoy reading about how different cultures adapt to sport at development stages and how the compare to my own experiences of School, age group and senior rugby.

    I have to say I agree with the use of the word Drone by Mr Hunt. A drone is something that works very hard at achieving their given task and coaching in English rugby appears to focus too much on this at a young age. To be called a drone isn't necessarily derogatory as it just implies you know your job and you do it to the best of your ability (an admirable trait to have). Youngsters should just focus on core skills and be able to play in any position on the pitch.

    The best example within the England squad of what is possible is Courtney Lawes who came to the game late and therefore did not get over coached into a single position at youth level rugby. He has excellent core skills including line running and ball handling and with game experience you could pick him in a few different positions and see him being a dangerous player.

  • Comment number 83.

    As for New Zealand's allegedly poor record in the World Cup, I think this is heavily overstated. They were turned over by brilliant, unstoppable performances by France in 1999 and 2007, and by less spectacular but still impressive performances by Australia in 1991 and 2003 - years in which I think most would agree New Zealand were not at their strongest. And South Africa beat them by the narrowest of margins in the 1995 final in a tournament that was obviously destined to be won by the home team. And that's it - the only five matches that New Zealand have ever lost at the World Cup (barring 3rd place play-offs). Every team loses a match sometimes, and it isn't always down to "choking" or "arrogance" (in fact it almost never is in my opinion - these two concepts are talk for fans and newspapers, and are almost meaningless once a pro rugby team crosses the white line).

    I dream of the day when England beats New Zealand in a World Cup - I think it would be almost as great an occasion as the day we actually won the thing. Certainly don't expect to see it happen this year though.

  • Comment number 84.

    Interesting blog.

    Firstly, for those arguing that English rugby is superior to NZ rugby based on world cup results, this is a poor arguement. First of all it is debateable whether England has a better record than NZ at world cups (after all they have both only won 1 tournament, England have made 3 finals to NZs 2 but England have never beaten NZ at a world cup and NZ have never lost a pool game and have made the semis every tournament except one compared to England who have lost twice in the group stages and been knocked out in the quarters twice) and secondly it is not a good indication of the strength of the two countries. NZ has a much deeper pool of players than England and a vastly superior record outside of world cups.

    Aside from that, i would like to know how school rugby compares in Wales and if it has changed in recent decades. I always thought that NZ and Wales had similar rugby traditions in that is a game played by all classes and played in an attacking expressive form, but Wales have not been very competitive with NZ since the 1980s? Has the grassroots system changed in Wales?

  • Comment number 85.

    Great blog Ben, sadly hijacked by an argument over semantics. Rotorua is proper 'heartland' for rugby, but I think the comparison with American college sport might be taking it a little far - You might get a few hundred watching a 'big' school First XV (Used to be Hamilton BHS, but not sure if they're still as dominant), but certainly not the 50,000 fanatics at college 'ball'. Other than that tho, a great piece.

    As for the Hartley conversation, 3rd XV coaches are not usually particularly diplomatic types!

  • Comment number 86.

    As an avid rugby fan, patriotic but realistic, I watch all different styles of rugby. I would prefer to watch an entertaining game rather than a dull one ie I would rather watch England v Wales than Scotland V Italy. If I had the choice i love watching games where the 2 styles clash, ie Sth Africa v New Zealand.

    The arrogance arguement is really irrelevant and both sides could have it levied at them its purely an opinion and we all have one of them.

    Which is more "arrogant" England or New Zealand both just presuming that they are going to get to at least the semis.

    I think you will find this is a belief of the fans, the players will be believing it but they have the confidence that they dont have to say it!

    Either way this is probably the best article of the RWC so far. Great tournament, with some very poor reporting and have to say ITVs coverage is passable, just!

  • Comment number 87.

    great article, and shows why NZ, with a population a smidge over 4M, is such a rugby powerhouse, compared to others, like England that have a 60M population. Kiwis live and breath rugby from as soon as they can kick a ball.

  • Comment number 88.

    Ben, u should really take a look at the ulster schools system, as it is probably the most similar in nature! As northern ireland has no private schools, rugby is accessible to everyone that attends a largely protestant (and some catholic) grammar schools.
    Pupils hope to follow in the footsteps of their parents and play for the school's first XV, and from the age of 11, young players experience big school rivalries and dream of one day winning the ulster schools cup, one of the oldest tournaments in the world.
    My university flatmate and I never faced each other at school (from what we can remember) but can can recall our first XV's games in the tournament throughout our time in school. My school in fact had an intense rivalry with the biggest school in northern Ireland for a few years, and I can still recall tense moments and exciting clashes between my closest feiends and players who now regularly turn out for ulster.
    In ulster schools rugby is king, and when most ulster fans could tell u what school Stephen Ferris and others played for, its pretty clear :)

  • Comment number 89.

    Re the Drones comment- the Borg were certainly successful, but Captain Janeway's creativity tended to win through in the end

  • Comment number 90.

    Kiwis live and breath rugby from as soon as they can kick a ball.

    That's simply not true. Yes the game is popular but simply not any more popular than say football is to youngsters in the UK.
    What New Zealand have done is recognised how important introducing these core skill very early on. Rugby is catered for from 5 years old... teams are weight restricted so that smaller children and not thrown in with big lumps. The emphasis is on running and having fun.
    By the time these kids are ten they have moved on to the full size of the pitch and playing 35 minutes each way. There are certain things implement where tries can only be scored if the ball passes through a certain amount of hands. In the early stages kick is actively discourage.
    So it's not that the live and breath the game, but its that they recognise that quality coaching from a young age helps to develop very skillful players.

  • Comment number 91.

    Must say well done Ben great blog,

    As an aussie who toured NZ a few times during school and hosted our brother schools can def confirm what is written above. And that was almost twenty years ago.

    @lauriebluesguy2

    Suggest you go and have a look at sports like cycling, rowing and sailing if you want to see dominant kiwis in sport. Not to mention all the other sports they do well in, including Atheletics, swimming and yes a few footballers who play in the premiership. Considering the size of the population I would say that they bat well above their weight and fox-holing them as just a rugby nation is a bit narrow minded.

  • Comment number 92.

    Really good blog, Interesting insight into the world of school sport and its benefits to national sport, often in this country we criticise national teams failings across all sport and wonder why, 'grass roots' development is often the term banded around, this is an ideal model of how success can be created, a model that has been proven to work brilliantly (as eluded to in the blog) the American high school/university model. A school like this which regularly produces international from age groups and seemingly All Blacks too is no surprise that they have huge pressures to deal with during younger ages, this is priceless development for elite high pressure situations, for example penalty shoot outs in major international football competitions - how often do we say our national teams 'choked' even in football, the magnitude of it in this country, how well spectated are youth academy football matches, even reserve team games? not very well, I strongly believe it is a great system to develop athletes and is the kind of 'grass roots' development this country needs across all sports, we have a huge university sports system to support it as well similarly to the American system. Of course some note should be made as it does in the blog of the potential for athletes at this age to come under too much pressure and crack, however this has to be weighed up against the prospect of winning major international events further down the line!!

  • Comment number 93.

    Really interesting Blog cheers. I love going over to NZ to visit family and rugby is in their blood (Go Crusaders!)

    The biggest challenge at present for NZ youth rugby was touched upon but not expanded on!

    The 1st XV players really are treated like premiership footballers and have such started to act like it. There is many a story about a potentially gifted future allblack getting into trouble and then hoping that the said status gets him off the hook. More than not they do, they get a slap on the wrist and are told not to do it again. This demi-god accolade has meant that this problem has increased over the past few years, even with the severity of crime, and New Zealand is potentially losing out on even more amazing talent.

    This will hopefully be addressed

  • Comment number 94.

    @83 France's performance in 2007 was certainly not unstoppable. I sat & watched in the stands as New Zealand spurned opportunities for easy 3 pointers - the likes of which the English 'drones' would not have done. It was actually this game that hardened my belief that Kiwis are arrogant when it comes to rugby. Firstly, after watching England beat the Aussies earlier in the day the kiwi fans in the pub were delighted as this meant 'they were definitely in the final.

    It was also quite comical at the game that the kiwi supporters were incredulous that the English, Welsh & Irish supporters were supporting the French. They assumed we all wanted the All Blacks could win as they were everybody's 2nd team; that everyone loved the All Blacks style of play & that we didn't like the French. No amount of explanations of supporting the underdog; wanting Northern Hemisphere teams to do well or even that the All Blacks may not have a monopoly on playing attractive rugby could get through to them.

    Thing is kiwis are great people generally & on any other subjects they are a delight to talk to but I'm afraid they are arrogant beyond belief when it comes to Rugby.

  • Comment number 95.

    New Zealand are the Brazil of Rugby union. True they have not won enough world cups. But thats only a bonus. They have consistently proven themselves to be the most entertaining of the top rugby sides.

  • Comment number 96.

    Excellent article! Takes me back to my school days in South Africa where I went to one of the best schools in the country Paarl Boys High, and very similar to the setup in NZ, schools rugby is HUGE in SA with national tables, TV coverage, big name corporate sponsors and its own select academy called Craven Week, the base of the provincial and national sides. Our local interschool’s derby match with Paarl Gymnasium easily attracting crowds exceeding 15000.
    This is the real reason southern hemisphere sides have the edge over the northern hemisphere. I was only a fringe 1st XV player, but will remember for the rest of my day the immense pride that came with it, and training 3 hours a day 5 days a week followed by a match day Saturday was never seen as a chore but something we wanted to do to be the best, an attitude decidedly lacking in a large proportion of modern schools in the UK
    BOOISHAAI!!!!!

  • Comment number 97.

    I remember when this were all just fields...

  • Comment number 98.

    Tiger Rose...
    Oh i think every country has it's undesirables. You make generalisations like that or else you will get accused for throwing stones inside a greenhouse.

  • Comment number 99.

    # 84 - I am intrigued by the misconception that NZ (or indeed any other rugby playing country) has deeper resources that England. According to IRB stats, England has some 2.5m registered players (with 166k senior male players) and NZ has 153k with 27k senior male players. By all rights England (like India at cricket) should be the dominant force in world rugby if player resources were the determining factor. They are not. It is just astonishing the the RFU (like the BCCI) with all of its player and financial resources seems unable to organise a structure which consistently produces world class teams.

  • Comment number 100.

    Current IRB data on NZ

    Number Of Clubs: 562
    Number Of Registered Players: 137835
    Number of Referees: 2192
    Pre-teen Male Players: 59455
    Pre-teen Female Player: 7812
    Teen Male Player: 39317
    Teen Female Player: 2963
    Senior Male Player: 27374
    Senior Female Player: 914
    Total Male Player: 126146
    Total Female Player: 11689

 

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