Huff, puff, moan, groan life’s not fair say New Zealand’s Super Rugby coaches as they come to terms with a landscape that looks exactly like it has almost every year since 2012.
Like children indignant with rage at the nightly discovery there is an expectation they will wear pyjamas to bed, New Zealand’s Super Rugby coaches seem to be trying to make out they have been duped by the All Blacks: blindsided by the national coaching panel’s request to release players for mid-season training camps.
Memories appear to be short in some quarters as this really isn’t new, unusual or a response to some festering concern about playing England later in the year.
All Blacks training camps have been a constant part of the Steve Hansen coaching regime and every Super Rugby coach, on seeing the draw when it was released in September last year, must have strongly suspected that they would be asked to release players for the national cause.
They can’t play dumb on this as the situation was the same in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
The exceptions were 2015 because there was a significant preparation period between the end of Super Rugby and the first scheduled test and last year, again because the squad assembled two weeks before taking on the British & Irish Lions.
The mid-season camps are back in 2018 because there is a full round of Super Rugby on the weekend of June 1-2 and test players will only assemble six days before they play France at Eden Park on June 9.
Hansen wants a bit of time with a wider squad before they turn up in early June. He wants to embed his thoughts about the season ahead, emphasise the need for a few basic skills to be refined and develop a handful of core plays. Effectively get some basic groundwork out the way.
The central contracting system exists to ensure decisions are made for the greater good and as the All Blacks are the key financial driver and at the apex of the system, they are considered the greater good.
This is not some closely held secret. This is not new, radical or unjustified. It’s a necessary evil at worst and those who whine about it or rally against it, should remember that the prolonged success of the All Blacks has mostly funded the economic boom New Zealand Rugby has enjoyed in the last decade and which has enabled rugby-related salaries to rise far quicker than the national average.
The truth is that the training camps are not much of a big deal at all, but Super Rugby coaches had their respective noses put out of joint by the way the All Blacks’ intentions were communicated. The process was poor apparently: a touch dictatorial while the initial demands were also thought to be excessive.
But here we are now with an agreement that seems reasonable and bang in line with previous seasons which means it is time to get over it.
And Super Rugby coaches should be wary about overstating the impact of the All Blacks’ demands.
It won’t be ideal for New Zealand’s sides to have a couple of games where their All Blacks’ contingent miss the early part of the week, but nor will it be quite as catastrophic as they suggest. They will cope just fine.
What has been signed off is not excessive and if they doth protest too much it will start to feel like their true intention is to lower public expectation: nail down the excuses before the season starts to create the chance of under promising and over delivering.
Which brings things full circle as this is precisely the luxury that is not afforded Hansen. He can’t under promise as should the All Blacks lose to France in Auckland, any attempt to blame a lack of preparation time will simply inflame the public ire.
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