Kiwi’s have real class

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Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post

After a great final, New Zealand became the first team in World Cup history to defend the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

And all rugby union fans should be grateful that we have the All Blacks as our sport’s standard bearers.

Not only did they win the eighth rugby World Cup with a playing style that will inspire a generation but they also set the standard away from the 
field as to how premier sportsmen should conduct themselves.

The images of Sonny Bill Williams handing his winner’s medal to a teenage fan will grab the headlines.

But whilst this was a selfless act of generosity that no scepticism can devalue, its roots come from the desire of the All Blacks to be something more than just the best rugby team on the planet.

For those of you new to the sport, then quite simply New Zealand have always been the premier rugby nation.

For more than 100 years, until 2004, they had a win ratio of 75%. No team in any sport can match that level of sustained brilliance.

But between 2004 and 2011 that win ratio increased to 86% and since their 2011 World Cup win, that ratio has increased further to an almost jaw-dropping 95%.

And this is not a reflection of the performances of the other Test-playing nations, as the improvement across the game was one of the features of this World Cup.

No, quite simply it is because the Kiwis have again raised the possibilities of what can be achieved.

So why have the last 11 years seen such an elevation?

A brief period of average results in 2004/5 was one thing, but greater significance was attached to poor levels of behaviour off the field and a lack of respect for the history of the jersey.

Whilst losing was not a habit to be tolerated, the demeaning of the All Black name was “unforgivable”.

Quite simply, the All Blacks decided to have a long hard look at themselves and unfortunately – for the rest of the rugby world – they didn’t like what they saw.

A period of soul searching and the building of a new culture was required. 
As a result, a number of building blocks were put in place.

Much is made about culture in sport. Some explanations take on an almost business organisation feel ,whilst others just seek to replicate what others have done before.

The All Blacks sought to create a new culture. It would reconnect with their history but also empower individuals to develop themselves, not only as sportsmen, but as people too.

‘Better people make better All Blacks’ was one official message that was developed. The unofficial version was that the All Blacks would include “no ****heads”.

Allegedly it is this more direct message that is to be found on the walls in their team room.

Other powerful messages – and there were many that came through from the review – was that no longer would anyone connected with the All Blacks talk about themselves before the team.

“I” was to be replaced by “we” at all times.

It was a striking during the World Cup how, during interviews, the New Zealand players always brought every answer back to the team dynamic.

Julian Savea’s superb individual try against France was explained as “only possible due to the guys around me” for instance.

The more we learn about the All Blacks’ approach, the more it is to be encouraged that humility is still a commodity in elite sport.

From the players cleaning their own changing rooms, to the belief that global success is only achievable by developing balanced individuals with their feet firmly on the floor, is a clear demonstration to other sports as to how winning cultures are truly developed.

That it is a team from rugby union that leads this is to take pride from the sport.

For after all, no one has won more and for longer than the All Blacks.

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of a well known Hoppers member and 
much loved family friend this week.

Sam Nye was a long time and well liked member of the Lightfoot Green club. Nicknamed ‘Five Try Nye’ for his try scoring record as a youngster, he was a regular watcher of the 1st XV.

The Hoppers club is much like an extended family and I am sure respects will be appropriately paid to ‘Five Try’ at tomorrow’s home game against Otley.