Week 97 (8 - 14 August 2015)
Time travelling through the rugby universe over the past 40 years, you would be hard pushed to land in a year in which a rugby fan could honestly tell you that New Zealand are not the best team in the world right now (or then, as they would say).
Their dominance, whilst not total – of the seven Rugby World Cups, New Zealand have won two of them – has earned them this perception. Across the years and decades their rivals blow hot and cold, but New Zealand have hit consistently impressive levels of performance year in, year out.
In other sports, this level of dominance by one team might translate to deep-rooted antipathy from their rivals. Not for New Zealand: they are revered as much as they are feared.
Yes, they play attractive rugby, respect the referee and are gracious winners most of the time. But this alone does not win over rival fans beaten down by years of losing matches to the All Blacks.
The All Blacks’ ruse is the oldest trick in the book for making friends: be fun and make an effort.
This week they did just that by participating in a safety video for sponsors Air New Zealand.
The premise of the video was All Black stars such as captain Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg copying the Men in Black film franchise for a pre-flight song.
The All Blacks were not there to make up the numbers either with Dagg, one of New Zealand’s star three quarters, rapping his way through safety procedures for passengers with lyrics such as "Relax, let's go, let's get this started, but before this plane's departed, obey instructions from your crew - all lighted signs and placards too."
Despite the not always-perfectly rhyming lyrics, the video is an online hit racking up 1.4 million views on YouTube already.
But the stunt was no one-off, rather the latest in a line of engagement initiatives which has also seen McCaw replace a papier mâché version of himself in a New Zealand school and “come alive” during morning assembly.
Further underpinning the positive perception which these light-hearted set pieces create is the players’ willingness to act as great interview subjects: answering tough questions directly or matching journalists’ lighter questions with the same playful tone.
The All Blacks’ loveable media profile balances their ruthless domination of the sport, leaving rugby fans with a begrudging respect. You might want to dislike them, but you just can’t.
Photo: Air New Zealand