Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: John Hart

John Hart knows what it is to be the most vilified sporting figure in NZ - he endured weeks of public vitriol when the All Blacks lost the 1999 World Cup. The business leader and mentor to many sportspeople says the country has become too PC and we need to instil discipline and standards in our children.

Former All Black coach John Hart has some advice for Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. Photo / Getty Images
Former All Black coach John Hart has some advice for Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. Photo / Getty Images

1. Does the reaction over the Team New Zealand loss last week show the New Zealand sporting public has grown up?
Hopefully yes. However, the reaction to a Rugby World Cup loss will always be different in this country. Rugby is part of our culture and identity. The America's Cup has become a temporary and exciting fascination. We can move on quickly from losing the America's Cup - Rugby World Cups will always take more time.

2. Have you been in touch with [Team New Zealand skipper] Dean Barker?
I sent him a card today, actually. I sent him a note before the last race too, just talking about coming back from adversity, and to focus on themselves and not worry about anyone else. The one today is a bit more confidential. Just a bit of advice from my experience.

3. How bad did the public reaction to your 1999 loss get?
People spat on me. I had been planning a holiday in Europe with my family after the loss but we came home to face the music and my son Chris, who was 19, suggested we go to the trotting cup in Christchurch. It was a hot day and people were drinking and some of them got very ugly.

One guy spat in my face. They threw beer cans at my horse when he went out on the track. The horse didn't know what he'd done wrong! He was the favourite and he got beaten by a nose which was probably ominous. It wasn't a great day in my life.

4. You retreated from public life after that. Why?
I went through a really bad time. I was depressed. Didn't go out much. Didn't do a lot of work for a couple of years. I made the mistake of taking it personally, which is what Dean must not do. You feel lonely, desperate. You feel as though you have failed. It had a huge effect on my elderly parents, and my family. Ironically it was an auction to raise money for Team New Zealand which helped pull me out of it. Bayleys ran an online auction and they asked me to project manage it and that was the start of things improving. I'm mentally stronger.
You learn that one event shouldn't affect how you see yourself or your life or how others see you. Did it make me more empathetic? Absolutely. Boy, do I feel empathy for Dean Barker.

5. Had you wanted to be an All Black yourself?
I always had a passion for the All Blacks. When I was a 15-year-old in 1960, I entered a competition in the Truth newspaper to pick the the AB team going to South Africa. I got all but two right and won a frying pan for coming third. I wasn't good enough to be an All Black in the end. I played for Auckland but I was really just a good club and rep player.

6. What kind of childhood did you have?
I grew up in a state house in Mt Roskill. My parents never had a lot of money, but to me they were the richest parents I could wish for. My father was a warehouse manager with the same company for 40 years. My mother was the most beautiful person that lived. They were low-key people. My confidence, I think, came from making rep teams for rugby and cricket all through school. And I had a great education.

7. What kind of a father are you?
I would like to think I have been loving, very supportive, and always there for Kay and Chris. I was busy though - I was [director of employee relations] at Fletcher Challenge when I was coaching Auckland, which was almost a fulltime gig in itself, but I always tried to make sure I had quality time with the kids. If I have a regret, it is that my marriage separation had an impact on them.

8. You had more grief to deal with when your new partner died. What did that teach you?
The importance of family and friends, and more importantly to make the most of every day. The marriage break-up was a tough time. It was my fault, we grew apart and I left home. Then Renee died six months later. She was 34 and I nursed her through that. That was 2003 and it all built on the World Cup loss. But I've been very lucky in my partner now, Di Stewart. I have wonderful family and friends. And I deal with any negativity or knocks in life very well.

9. You had five years with the Warriors, after your rugby career. Which would you choose - rugby or league?
Rugby has been, and always will be, my passion as it has been such a large part of my life. I am very grateful for what rugby has given me. I enjoyed my years at the Warriors, but rugby will always be number one in my world. I resigned [from the Warriors] because of the decision to replace [coach] Ivan Cleary who I have huge respect for. He should not have been let go. He wanted to stay and I didn't appreciate the way it was handled. Look where they are now! I lost a lot of respect for the organisation and I decided I was better to go.

10. Who, in your opinion, is the greatest All Black of modern times?
I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with and coached some of the greatest modern-day players - John Kirwan, Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Sean Fitzpatrick, Zinzan Brooke, Wayne Shelford, Andy Haden and Grant Fox. I marvel at the greatness of Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter and Conrad Smith, and the emerging greatness of Kieran Read.
But to me, clearly the greatest All Black of modern times is Michael Jones. Without peer, a man who played all three loose forward positions, and with the skills to play in the midfield. A freak on the field and a gentleman off it.

11. Why are you such an advocate for discipline?
I am a great believer that discipline and standards underpin success in society across sport, business, families, and our schools.
Children need boundaries. It's become too easy to let kids do what they want to do rather than what they should do. If I have a concern it is that we have become too politically correct in New Zealand. We've got the best country in the world and I don't think we understand how lucky we are and how good New Zealand is.

12. Why have you been such a polarising figure?
Others are probably better equipped to answer that. However, I have always been strong-minded and prepared to express an opinion. Some people view confidence as arrogance. The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well in New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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