Denial can be a crippling disease. Heavy smokers deny they are addicted. Drunks deny they have a problem. And New Zealand coach David Kidwell denies the Kiwis are in trouble when they are in serious free-fall.
Coaches are traditionally an optimistic bunch. They need to be for their players, fans and bosses. But Kidwell couldn’t see his side’s crushing 30-12 loss to Australia on Friday for what it was: a terrible performance.
Kidwell’s record is now one win from six Tests.
“Looking at the last thirty minutes there is something to build on,” he said afterwards.
He was referring to a period where the Kiwis scored two tries while holding the Kangaroos scoreless. But what about the first half, where Australia waltzed to a 24-0 lead, through some luck and ineffectual Kiwis attack?
Kidwell has an even greater issue though: his team’s culture. Only hours after the loss, instead of reflecting and plotting the Kiwis’ journey to success, the national captain and a senior teammate got drunk and allegedly bought and consumed cocaine.
It’s a sad story that goes deeper than two players letting their teammates down. The Kiwis’ brand as a sporting team is now at an all-time low.
For years, coaches and players have expressed their delight at the ‘brotherhood’ in New Zealand Test camps. When the Kiwis won the 2005 Tri-Nations, senior captain Ruben Wiki led the way through his actions both on and off the field.
Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor’s night out would never have happened if Wiki had been part of the team. He was a figure that demanded respect for his record but also his values.
We can’t simply shrug this off as a couple of stupid decisions. Bromwich is (or was) the Kiwis’ skipper. He is supposed to embody the team’s values.
How can Bromwich lead his team into the World Cup? Follow me, boys, let’s go on a bender? He can’t now. If he did, ‘Te Iwi Kiwi’ – former coach Stephen Kearney’s mantra of selflessness and shared commitment to the team’s values and goals – would amount to just whiteboard talk.
— Radio Sport (@radiosportnz) May 7, 2017
The saddest part? There isn’t much of an uproar in New Zealand. Why? The Kiwis’ brand has suffered greatly over the past 20 years.
During this time, including their rise to No.1 in the world and some euphoric tournament victories, the Kiwis have won less than half of their Tests.
There are only so many knocks their supporters can take, or shrug off.
Put it this way: if former All Black captain Richie McCaw got heavily drunk and took drugs after a Test, the public would turn on him like vultures.
When ex-All Blacks lock Ali Williams was caught buying cocaine in Paris this year, it made headlines around the world, from Washington to Australia.
Some local media wrote how he has let the All Blacks brand down. Remember Williams retired from internationals in 2012 – that’s five years ago. Once an All Black, you are expected to uphold those high values, even in retirement.
— Sky Sports Rugby 🏉 (@SkySportsRugby) April 21, 2017
So the New Zealand Rugby League and the Kiwis team need to start fresh. Why did Bromwich and Proctor go out after the Test? Was there not a curfew or standard set internally within the group?
The NZRL has a chance to lead by making some tough decisions for the good of the team’s future. Let’s hope they take stock and aim to be like the All Blacks one day.