Jack Gleeson, the coach of the first All Black Grand Slam team in Britain, in 1978, once told me what happened when he helped select his first New Zealand team. He was the low man on the three selector totem pole, and the seniors, Ivan Vodanovich and Bob Duff, told him he could pick one player in the squad.
"After that, my job was to make the tea and take notes while they picked the rest," Gleeson said as we drove to Auckland together in the 1970s after a game in Whangarei.
Steve Hansen and his colleagues, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, travelled a more sophisticated road as they selected their squad this week for the World Cup.
They didn't sit in a smoke filled room at the back of a grandstand, listening for a kettle to boil. Instead, on the Monday before the announcement on Wednesday they had a conference telephone call.
There would have been no acrimony in their discussions. "We'd sent out some notes to each other, and funnily enough came up with the same group," Hansen told Simon Barnett and myself on NewstalkZB just an hour after the squad was named. "On the Monday we discussed a few things, and asked a few questions. Have we got this right? Have we got the right combination here? We felt satisfied with where we were at, and that was it."
He swore the process was not run as a dictatorship. "We've always been able to hear each other, and we're open to other people's ideas, until we get to the point where we all agree."
It'd be a sad day for rugby when a good proportion of the other 4.8 million people in New Zealand weren't keen amateur selectors, with strong views of their own, often not aligned with the three men paid to do the job.
Hansen says himself that one of the selections that took the longest to decide was whether to omit Ngani Laumape, who's been a midfield wrecking ball for opposing defences all year. "It was a very tough call to make. If we could have taken five (midfielders) he would have made the side."
How could Laumape – fit, young and injury free – have not made the squad, asked many doubters on line, when Sonny Bill Williams, at 34, eight years older than Laumape, and frequently sidelined with injuries, is selected for Japan?
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The Williams naysayers may be proven right, but keep in mind that in 2019 nobody is better informed on the state of the top players' bodies and minds than the selectors. Constant, accurate information flows into the All Black camp.
Once that certainly wasn't the case. North Canterbury farmer Andy Earl hadn't played a club game for weeks in 1992 because he and everyone else in the Rotherham area was dragging stock out of snow drifts after the massive storm that winter. But when All Black coach Laurie Mains rang to ask him if he was match fit enough to join the All Blacks in Australia as an injury replacement his immediate reply was, "hell yeah". (Earl's standout game in the sweltering heat of Brisbane in the second test remains one of the gutsiest displays of mind over exhausted body I've ever seen).
Now, says Hansen, "we monitor the form, and the fitness, and the injuries, with players we're interested in in all of the provinces. [With Sonny Bill] it's a little bit like Dan Carter at the last Cup, when people said we shouldn't pick him. In Sonny's case, he's a freak of an athlete for one. He can do things with the ball that other people can't do. He gives us a point of difference that the other three midfielders, four if you include Ngani, can't do. It's nice to have that in your bag of tricks.
"You understand criticism is part of the job. Sonny understands that too. But a lot of the time the criticism he gets is misguided, because they don't understand the man. In his early days in league if he had his time again he'd probably change some of the things he's done. But people have formed opinions and haven't let them go. If they had the chance to sit down with the guy they'd find he's a very decent human being."
In 2015 the All Blacks were, by a long distance, the most attack minded side of the four teams who made the semifinals. That attitude, says Hansen, won't change in Japan.
"That's how we play. We're kidding ourselves if we go away from one of our strengths. I think you'll see a lot of teams trying to do the same things. Naturally for us we like to move the ball, and that can put us under pressure. But by and large it's been a pretty good recipe."
Before the 2015 Cup I spoke at some length with Hansen about his selecting philosophy, which, in part, boiled down to finding the delicate balance between not keeping veterans too long, and not picking young players too soon.
You can see the knife edge being walked in the '19 squad with the retention of Ben Smith, and the elevation of 22-year-old Luke Jacobson. There's a slightly macabre connection between the two. At the start of May when the Chiefs and the Highlanders were slugging out a 31-all draw in Dunedin there was a legal but massive collision between Jacobson and Smith, that bent Smith's knee back to a sickening angle. That's the injury Smith has been recovering from this season.
On a happier note Jacobson has fulfilled the promise he showed that night in Dunedin when in this column on May 6 I noted that he did so much in the game, from bruising defence to skilful attack, that "you wanted to look closely to make sure he didn't have an identical twin brother on the field with him".
Smith, Jacobson, and the rest of the squad are in pragmatic, vastly experienced hands in the group led by Hansen. This is the last hurrah for the coach, and, if he wins back-to-back World Cups as head coach, his place as an All Black coaching immortal will be set in stone. As he often does, a touch of Zen emerges when Hansen is asked to ponder the big picture.
"If you get too far ahead of yourself, or you start feeling nostalgic, and start looking at everything you've done, you're going to drop the ball. We just have to stay in the moment, and enjoy that for what it is and do it the best we can. If we get that day right, and if we do that day in day out, that's the best way to get improvement."
In the spirit of full disclosure....
I had a very small role as a consultant in the documentary series The Story of Rugby now screening on Saturday nights on TVNZ. Thankfully I wasn't in any of the crews that flew out of Auckland for weeks on end to interview 99 people in parts of the world ranging from a slum in Sao Paulo in Brazil to a prison in Buenos Aires to Twickenham to Rugby School, who I'd sometimes see back at the production's headquarters in Epsom looking gaunt and jet lagged, but still somehow enthused.
Their labours have been rewarded with a fascinating series that gives a wide ranging context to the sport, told by players, historians, coaches and journalists. As a rugby tragic I was intrigued by the idea when producer Steven O'Meagher first floated it early last year, and it's a pleasure to see how well his hopes have been realised.
There are a lot of memorable moments, but one favourite so far is Sean Fitzpatrick looking to the skies and saying "sorry Dad", when he reveals that his father Brian could never bring himself to ever visit Wales again after playing in the All Black team that lost the 1953 test in Cardiff.