Robert van Royen is also a Stuff sports reporter
OPINION: Rest in peace, meaningful and honest post-match interviews with Kiwi rugby players.
They were nice while they were lasted, as rare as they were, but have now almost certainly been plunged into extinction by New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
That’s right, having watched first Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea, followed by Highlanders captain Aaron Smith, unload on officials with refreshing and open comments in recent weeks, NZR has essentially said cease and desist.
NZR general manager of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said as much this week when he confirmed Savea’s and Smith’s comments had not gone down well with the governing body.
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“Well, we have raised particular issues around post-match comments with teams this week,” he said. “Obviously, after the last couple of weeks.”
In other words, players are essentially being muzzled.
Pity the punters. Bring has increasingly sanitized post-match interviews. Never mind some honesty regarding a game-defining call, it’s all about “credit to the boys” and “games of two bad”.
Sky’s presenters and camera operator might as well down tools as soon as the final whistle pierces the air.
It’s a crying shame, especially when, as Lendrum noted, Savea’s and Smith’s comments didn’t meet the threshold for Sanzaar to pursue conduct charges against them.
Understandably, NZR want their referees treated with respect, and would prefer grievances to be made through the appropriate channels, rather than dirty laundry aired to all.
However, when a team has been denied the chance to win a match due to a contentious call after the hooter, as was the case with the Hurricanes against the Crusaders, should Savea really be expected to bite his tongue?
Right or wrong, it was a debatable call, Savea and the Hurricanes felt aggrieved, and he made his opinion heard.
“As a leader I like to put pressure on, and demand the officials are doing everything they can to get these calls right,” Savea said.
Following the Highlanders’ one-point defeat to the Hurricanes in Dunedin last week, Smith alleged the Highlanders were ‘getting robbed all the time’, and was particularly aghast after the Hurricanes rake Asafo Aumua clobbered Gareth Evans at a ruck and administered a black eye .
“We had a red card [Josh Dickson] for contact to the head and one of our guys blatantly gets a black eye and the touchies and refs just walk it off like it’s nothing. ”
Smith had every right to be filthy, given officials checked and cleared the incident during the game, only for Sanzaar to later deem it warranted a red card. Aumua was suspended for three weeks.
Sky is blessed with the opportunity to interview players almost immediately after the final whistle, when emotions are still flowing, at least 20 minutes before post-match press conferences.
By then, players have generally had a chance to cool down and regain their composure, and perhaps gain some clarity and understanding.
It’s no surprise, and 100% fair, NZR don’t endorse players lining up officials during interviews, but do they really need to send a message to the Kiwi franchises regarding post-match comments?
At a time when post-match interviews are more often than not bland, players shouldn’t have to second guess what they’re saying in the heat of the moment, especially when games have been marred by controversial decisions.
If anything, it would have been criminal if Savea and Smith downplayed and smoothed over events in the immediate aftermath of their bitter defeats.