This below (written by legendary All Black No 8 – Zinzan Brooke) gives a glimpse behind the relationship the players and the country have with the ‘All Black’ jersey and into the mindset of a team-culture and camaraderie that breeds success
New Zealand are a great rugby team because of their pride in the shirt, writes Zinzan Brooke
I feel outsiders still underestimate the power that the black shirt holds for New Zealanders. Of course, every player from Georgia to Uruguay is incredibly proud to pull on their national shirt and represent their country, but with Kiwis it is something more, something almost spiritual.
When you look at the All Blacks’ results in the past four years, they have lost just three times in 55 games. That level of consistency in a team sport where fortunes generally ebb and flow is phenomenal.
Defeats, rare as they are, provoke an instant backlash. There is no moping around, only a determination to put things right. After New Zealand thrashed Australia in Auckland following their defeat in Sydney, people were saying “that’s amazing”, well no it’s not. That is just what I expected. I have been in that same situation where you have been sat on your bum and you are counting down the days because it is a memory you want to erase, a door you want to close.
So how do you explain that consistent level of success? New Zealand is a small country. It has a population of just over four million. So it is not because of the playing numbers. Let’s also dismiss the notion that New Zealanders are somehow genetically predisposed to become great players.
They’re not. Great players, as opposed to talented individuals, are made rather than born that way. Nor is it because of money. Other unions have far greater resources at their disposal.
If it is not because of the money or players, how do New Zealand consistently set the bar so high? In my opinion, it is because of the culture that revolves around earning the right to wear that black shirt.
Every year people who wear that shirt create history and leave a benchmark for the next generation to aspire to.
That is the legacy which will be left after this World Cup by individuals such as McCaw, Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu, who have worn it with pride and distinction over the past decade. It is about submitting yourself to an ideal far bigger than your individual ambitions.
The shirt demands that you leave ego at the door. There are some people who want to take something from the game as opposed to giving something to it. If you take something out of it and don’t want to give back then you will be exposed very quickly.
Some people measure professionalism by how much money you are paid; I would argue that professionalism is about attitude. The money is the by-product of the dedication. And that’s the greatest compliment I can pay to individuals such as McCaw, Carter, Nonu and Conard Smith: they have been wonderful professionals for New Zealand, not in the sense of earning the most money but being four of the most dedicated All Blacks.
That is the great power that the All Black history has. Many a great man has donned the jersey and it is that sense of earning your own little niche in history that means we as a small nation of four million people can continually raise that bar to a level where people cannot stay with us.