Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Sir John Kirwan

The All Black great, one of rugby's highest try scorers, has been named coach of the Blues. JK, as he prefers to be known, is the face of depression awareness campaigns. He and his Italian wife, Lady Fiorella, have three children - Francesca, Niko and Luca.

New Blues rugby coach Sir John Kirwan attends a press conference at Eden Park. Photo / Dean Purcell
New Blues rugby coach Sir John Kirwan attends a press conference at Eden Park. Photo / Dean Purcell

Why are you the right man for the Blues job?

I think it's a combination of things. I'm at a stage in my career where I've had a good apprenticeship. From a coaching point of view, I know the question is asked, "Can we count Japan and Italy?" [national teams he coached], and I say, yes. Also I'm from the region. I'm an Aucklander, born and bred. I want to see Eden Park full. My passion has been a big part of getting the job and my awareness of what we need to do.

Was your depression campaign an issue in getting this job? Will you still be able to work at both?

No is the answer to the first part. I've been running the campaign from afar for a long time. My main focus is the Blues but I'm passionate about continuing with the campaign.

Do you ever think your depression was brought on by your trajectory to superstardom in rugby and that maybe "I should have just had a quiet life in Mangere"?

I think it is just what it is. I don't need to get into the reasons why any more. I used to ask myself that. At the time, it was the worst thing and now I say it's the best thing that ever happened to me.

What is the most misunderstood thing about you?

I have a hard edge. People probably see me as a nice guy because I'm trying to help. But I can be tough.

You and Len Brown are both De La Salle College old boys and both running Auckland's biggest institutions. Was it something in the drinking fountains?

It's not so much about the school as coming from South Auckland. I'm colour blind. When you grow up in Mangere and you go to school at Mangere East, there's a different philosophy. You can do anything. Academically, maybe we weren't up there. But if you were into art, you did art. Or sport. Whatever you wanted. It was hard when I first got there because there were gangsters and you had to be tough.

Given your international experience, do the media in this country need more of a sense of proportion about rugby? Is it unhealthily obsessive?

I hope it's obsessive. It's about love. People might say, "Oh here we go". But it's an emotional sport. People say professionalism has made it cold. But I think rugby is an integral part of our identity with history. In 1888, the only way we could show England we didn't want to be part of them any more was to get on a ship and go and beat them on the rugby field. I hope we're on the obsessive side. You can't measure emotion, and people hate you if you lose. But that can't upset you. The emotion is a good thing. You just have to keep raising the bar.

When were you last moved to tears over art?

I struggle in some movies. Cinema Paradiso was one. The Italians have an incredible ability to make sad and amazing films. Life Is Beautiful was an inspiration. Art is very personal. It inspires rather than saddens me. I nearly bought a piece of art once, and then decided I wouldn't because it scared me. That's kind of interesting.

What Italian turn of phrase do you love the most - and could you please translate?

Essera tranquillo - be tranquil. I said it to my daughter yesterday. It's a phrase that got me through when I wasn't too well, mentally. I'd say it to myself a lot.

What life-changing book have you read?

I read constantly. Books are my soul food and one of my tools for getting away. I remember going on tour with [former All Black coach] Wayne Smith and I'd never read a book before. He said, "JK, it's time you read a book." So he gave me The Paladin, about Winston Churchill's personal spy. I read it in a day and I've never stopped reading since. It changed my life. I don't know what I'd do without books. I have an iPad but I've gone back to that touchy feely thing of books. I like that. When I buy a book, I write the date and what is happening right then, what I'm feeling or what's happening. So there are all these books in my library with notes on the inside, like, "Got contract to coach Japan".

Are you frightened of anything?

I'm scared of heaps of things. I ask myself, "What is courage?" and it's really facing up to the fears you have. I'm fearful I'll fail in this job, but it makes me want to do everything I can do. Fear is a good thing.

What does love feel like?

Love. It has many forms. But how does it feel? Love is warmth on a cold night.

How do you cope with criticism?

I don't take it personally any more. It's a work in progress. When we lose next year - and there will be losses and there will be wins - there will be 50,000 people pissed off with me. But you have to have honest losses. You can live with them.

Who is the most difficult player you've ever played against?
David Campese would be up there. There would be some days when I'd say to myself, 'how am I going do this?' But I'd say mostly it was myself. I was always struggling to be the best I could be.

What derails your focus?
One of my weaknesses is taking on too much. I have to make sure I don't.

What quality do you least admire in others?
Arrogance.

If you could change one aspect about your personality or character, what would that be?
I'm pretty happy in my own skin. I'm changing all the time.
One of my goals is to keep changing.

What's your greatest strength?
I think I'm good at seeing the big picture. I know what I want and how to get there. But I also have an ability to change. And I don't like to brag about myself at all, but I'd like to think I bring the best out of people.

If you could have one other talent what would that be?
To play the guitar. I do play but it sounds like I'm kicking a cat around.

What's your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Soccer and rugby league.

- NZ Herald

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