All or Nothing: All Blacks. Episode 1 – The Black Jersey

All or nothing

Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing is a docuseries that has them shadowing a team. With All Blacks they follow them for the 2017 season. The series consists of six episodes and the first of them is called “The Black Jersey”

The episode begins with a press conference for announcing the All Blacks Squad, playing after a gap of nearly six months. There is bonhomie as they are assembling after an interval. This is a crucial phase for All Blacks and a third of their players have retired after the 2015 World Cup. So, with the team in transition, coach Steve Hansen has to put the team through the tough yards as they are scheduled to face the Lions ( a team put together with players from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland). They begin the season with a match against Samoa. They win it 78-0.

When the squad trains, we see footage where Hansen is admonishing the players and asking a player to do 20-pushups for the way he handled the ball. With five days to go to the Lions series, Hansen wants to induct a young player on the wing, Rieko Loane. He hands him the no 11 made popular by Jonah Lomu and bloods him in the team in place of Julian Savea, who held the jersey for 5 years. While that shows immense faith on him, it also leads to a lot of pressure on the rookie. 

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The series against Lions is crucial for All Blacks because they have been dominant against them. In the 11 series they played against each other, Lions have only won once. The factor adding spite to the contest is the Lion’s coach – Warren Gatland. Being a New Zealander himself, coaching Lions is seen nothing short of treason. 

The series figures prominently on both the players and coach’s mind. Ben Smith, stand-in captain for the game against Samoa, says, “The series comes around once every 12 years and you might go through career without playing in one. Not everybody gets the opportunity.” He would obviously know better because leading up to the match against Samoa his participation was in doubt as he had concussions twice. 

Coach Steve Hansen spoke from the top of the tree when he said, “We used to be looked down upon by our English Brethren as they used to beat us often. When we started beating them and beating them often, it lead to a lot of animosity.” 

When the squad to face Lions was announced, Ryan Crotty was awarded for his persistence after being given the snub for World Cup. He went back to provincial rugby and earned the coach’s approval with his attitude. 

Successful teams like All Blacks crave some sort of uniformity. The bus driver over the years has been the same for them. He noticed that with experience players boarded the bus through the rear door and settled at the back. The newer player, meanwhile, sat at the front and were in charge of the music. The music they played was an indicator of the mood of the camp. The coach generally discouraged ‘boom-boom, bang-bang’ music. Sonny Bill Williams, a popular player, said that the experience of being on the bus was ‘pretty special’

Attitude is a part of All Blacks’ success: Kieran Read and Steve Hansen, though they come from different paths, stress on the same. Hansen says, “ … Part of being a coach is understanding which player needs a cuddle and which player needs a kick up the backside.” This is a pointer to players being entertained if they keep working hard at getting their games better. Kieran Read, the captain, says of the players who don’t figure in the starting Fifteen and substitutes, “… your role if you are not on the 23 is to prepare the 23 the best way you can.” 

All Blacks are more important than any individual. Everybody knows it and everybody follows it, even the parents of the players. Rieko Loane’s parents want the team to do well and their son to be playing a part in the team doing well. 

The match starts with the Haka performance, which the players feel connects them to other players in the team and to players in the past. Early into the match, Ben Smith, seems to have had a vertigo and fails the HIA (Head injury assessment). Ryan Crotty, after having worked hard has a hamstring tear. Hansen’s hunch of having Rieko Loane on the wing pays off and the All Blacks take a 1-0 lead in the 3-match series. 

 

Image courtesy: Amazon Prime 

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