Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick: Maintaining the hunger is key to success

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A hunger to succeed is needed. Photo / NZ Herald
A hunger to succeed is needed. Photo / NZ Herald

If we can make the presumption that the All Blacks beat England last night - and I learned as an All Black that bad things can happen if too many presumptions are made - the next question is: where to from here for Steve Hansen's team?

I must say that I have been impressed by their approach and what the All Blacks have shown on tour. Hansen has made no secret that he is developing the team by blending old and new and has done it very well. The injection of young players - like Aaron Smith, Luke Romano (he kind of came from nowhere, didn't he?) and others - has been a real shot in the arm for this team.

What Hansen has done successfully is create a powerful, collective team. If you take out Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and maybe Israel Dagg, there are not many 'superstars'. In that sense, they remind me of the 1987 All Black team which won the World Cup.

If you took out John Kirwan and Michael Jones, we didn't have that many superstars either but everyone was focused superbly on doing their job.

All right, we were a bit above average, but we really aimed at doing the basics well and performing our job - and when a team is full of individuals doing their jobs properly, they become a real force.

That's what happened with the 1987 side and its passage through 1988, 1989 and most of 1990. And that's what Hansen has achieved with this team - everyone is doing their jobs, doing the basics well and not making mistakes. They are a considerable team as a result - maybe 10 or 20 per cent better than anyone else right now.

The obvious reference to make from there is the 1991 All Black team that went to the next World Cup, where we were beaten by Australia in the semifinals. We got a lot of criticism that the team was too old; that it contained too many from the 1987 campaign.

I think we had the right players there in terms of talent. I don't think we were too old at all. If you had to put your finger on it, looking back, we had lost the hunger; we were taking our place in the team for granted after the week-in, week-out grind and we got found out. Australia were not better players than us in 1991 - but they were a better team.

That is what is so good about this All Black team; they are a very powerful unit, working together and working hard.

Hansen is fielding the best side each week, or not far off it, and we are not approaching things like the All Blacks did a few years ago - trying to field the two best teams in the world with heavy use of rotation. I was never comfortable with that approach and like what Hansen is doing far more.

So where to from here? I would say more of the same. The success of blending the young guys with the senior players has worked well and I would think Hansen will continue to do that where necessary to keep the hunger pangs going.

Once again, I don't think it will be a matter of age or how much petrol is in the tank. It will come down to that hunger.

Maybe some of the older players will fold up their tents, so to speak, and it doesn't look like Hansen and the other selectors will make the mistake of over-loyalty - sticking with tried and tested players just because they haven't let them down in the past.

They are shaping this All Black team to a plan, trying for a new level of achievement, and will be making adjustments as they go to achieve maximum performance.

There are also ways of revving up players. In 1992, after that '91 World Cup, I was rung by new All Black coach Laurie Mains, who asked if I wanted to be an All Black again. He was asking, he said, because he felt I wasn't going to be an All Black unless I changed. It wasn't that I was too old or anything, I was only 28 at the time. He felt I'd lost a bit of respect for the All Black jersey. He was right - it was a hunger thing and I knuckled down and changed.

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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