Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Full review required to improve on dismal showing

New Zealand won just once in Rio before being eliminated by Fiji yesterday. Picture / Photosport.nz
New Zealand won just once in Rio before being eliminated by Fiji yesterday. Picture / Photosport.nz

It's the New Zealand way to have a bit of a witch-hunt after something goes badly wrong for a national rugby team at a big tournament.

Usually they don't turn up anything that most people didn't already know. But, asking a few questions in the wake of the men's Olympic sevens catastrophe could be quite enlightening.

Here it seems that a thorough review could reveal plenty - not to apportion blame or besmirch reputations, but to get some clarity on how to do things better for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

And probably more importantly, one early truth to emerge is that if New Zealand is to compete in sevens with genuine hope, they will need greater sums of taxpayer cash.

And to qualify for more of the public purse, New Zealand Rugby is going to have to lift the bonnet on its entire approach to sevens and ask hard questions about how much and where they allocated resources, selections, the coaching appointment process, high performance culture and contracting structure.

The whole lot has to be reviewed because to win just one of four games when the team went to Rio with the stated goal of taking home gold, no one can dispute something went horribly wrong.

The pressure was applied and New Zealand wilted as if they felt the burden of their employers' much publicised strategic goal.

Top of the list to look at it in the review is the ultimate failure to persuade any regular All Blacks other than Sonny Bill Williams to try out for the team. Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith and Julian Savea have all said they were pulled away by the lure of the All Black jersey.

But that doesn't mean they weren't pushed by something they didn't quite like about the sevens environment either and the decision by Ardie Savea to pull the pin in April on his Olympic dream was never properly explained.

There was no pressure - direct or otherwise - applied by the All Blacks for him to change his mind so it would be worth NZR asking Savea to be as honest as he likes.

Most likely there was nothing in particular that drove Savea to withdraw - but then again, Kurt Baker said when he was left out of the Olympics squad that he felt he was being punished for trying to debate tactical options with coach Gordon Tietjens.

NZR will need to determine whether these were the disaffected rantings of a rejected player or a valid issue that other individuals didn't like but chose not to say anything about.

Smith was keen to commit but, as Highlanders captain, didn't want to miss any of their Super Rugby defence. If he could have been available without playing a tournament beforehand, he might have stuck his hand up, but there was no flexibility around that.

That's something to think about next time, as is the process and duration of the team's coaching appointment. In 2012, Gordon Tietjens was offered a four-year contract - NZR were keen to have certainty about their Olympic build-up. But four years is out of sync with their other contracts. Steve Hansen has only ever been offered two-year deals as All Blacks coach and it is worth asking why the All Blacks sevens have such a different view to optimum length of coaching contracts.

- NZ Herald

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