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Start date: 26 Sep 2020 00:45
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(soft rock music) – Welcome along everyone to episode three of Rugby Unwrapped. I’m Scotty Stevenson,thanks to The Spinoff, and to Halo Sport forputting this on for us. What a great episode we’ve got lined up, pleasure to welcome Sarah Hirini, captain of the Black Fern Sevens. Sarah, how are you buddy? – Yeah, not too bad Sumo, obviously some good news today, which makes it a little bit more positive. – It makes it very positive indeed, Conrad Smith joining us all the way from Pau in France, Conrad, great to have your company, mate. – No, it’s all good here we’ve– not quite as good as it is in New Zealand, but we’ve started thede-confinement as well, so I’m sending my daughter off to creche, and my son goes to the school tomorrow. So, a bit more time on our hands, but no, all good. – Well Conrad, we know that there could be some issues being so far around the globe, but we’llkeep you posted on those. TJ Perenara, welcome back, mate, great insights from you in episode one. Really looking forward to your chat today, and exciting news about being back on the training pitch pretty soon, mate. – Kia Ora bro thanks for having me back, yeah man, really good news going forward. I think just before this call actually, I saw the schedule, got Blues first up on Sunday the 14th. So, I’m looking forward to getting prepared for that, will be good. – And Simon Porter back for episode three. Ports, the CEO of Halo Sport, great to have your company. And today guys, we wanted to chat about how rugby gets to where it’s going. We’ve covered off where the game’s at. In episode two, we looked at some of the direction rugby’s taking, especially to professional level around what’s expected of theplayers and the fans. And today was a chance really to talk to the players, bothcurrent and in Conrad’s case only just passed. About how you guys areall taking the sponsorship and the leadership position and where the game is going. And I think, TJ, if Ican come to you first. How do players feelcurrently about the business of rugby and how they can help to strengthen it in the coming months? – I think everyone’s actually pretty positive about it. Like I know the discussions in the circles that I’ve been in, we probably– we’re gonna be defined, when we all finish and someone else is in our seat andplaying the game we love. They’ll look back on whatwe did at this point, and really, it’ll reallyshape where the game ends up in 10, 15, 20 years time. So, it’s a really good challenge to have. I think us as players,if we can do a really good job here, come out and play some really good footy, and put the game before ourselves for a little bit here. We give the next generation of players a really good opportunity to carry things on for a long period of time. If we don’t, then we can hurt the game. So, for us, it’s an exciting opportunity to like I say, go out there and play some exciting footy, and put the game before ourselves. – Sarah, in many ways, that sounds exactly what the Black Ferns have done for years. (laughs) – No, I agree completelywith what TJ’s saying, and we’re obviously in a vital position to help our game at the moment, in completely different circumstances to what we’re probably used to. But it is such a greatchallenge that we have, and I think that we’ve got, like you said, a massive opportunity to actually create probably some better competitions that we might not have been able to do in the past because everything just continues to flow. But now we’re able to maybe even start some new competitions, which is massively excitingfor our game as well. – Conrad, you’re up there with a French top 14 club, and a very respected one too. So, you’ve seen rugbyat Super Rugby level, provincial rugby level, World Cup level with the All Blacks. And now, you’re into the competition in a very different part of the world. What is the mood like in French rugby right now from your perspective, about where the game is at and the problems it faces? – Yeah, I think we’re not– probably the countryitself and rugby followers is not quite at the stagethat New Zealand’s at. So, we’re quite envious of the fact that rugby’s gonna beplayed in New Zealand and there’s probably not the same level of optimism, to be honest yet about the future of rugby. They’ve pencilled in astart date for next season of September, just to re– they’ve given up on this season, and now hoping to restart in September. But even that date, the prime minister and at government level they’ve come out and said that that might not be realistic and so, yeah. There’s a lot of eager anticipation around seeing how Super Rugby goes, and hopefully that goes well, and then it can sort of feed on to some more optimism around the likelihood of things starting up herein a couple of months. – When you listen to TJand Sarah speak, Conrad, do you think, well, ifI was in that position that’s exactly the stance that I’d be taking as well? – Yeah, for sure, and to be honest, the players up here, they’re very– they’re ready to train again. They’ve been hanging out to come together, and that’s not gonna happen still for a couple more weeks. But there is certainly a good feeling around the players, that they wanna play, whatever it means. They’ll take a pay cut, they’ll play in different competitions. They’ll play in empty stadiums if they have to, but– and it’s similar. I know players aroundthe world they’re all– it doesn’t matter what country they’re in, they’re made of the same stuff. They’re competitive, they wanna get out there and– if it helps a game, then they’ll do whatever it takes. – Ports, this is your market, these players that you represent. Not just in New Zealand,but around the world, in Japan and France,and England, elsewhere. Surely from a playermanagement point of view, this would be the most trying time in your career. What do you make of the response from your players, andfrom players in general so far through this? – Yeah, well, undoubtedly, it’s been the most trying time,is a good way to put it. It’s just been so uncertain, and I think that thehardest thing has been– and I’ve talked to Warren Alcock, who a lot of these people,or these guys all know and people will know,and he’s been doing this a bit longer than me. And we both just reflectthat we’ve just never seen anything like this at all, and the real difficultyis the uncertainty. People come to us andthey expect certainty, and we just can’t give it to people at the moment. We can run through scenarios,we can do whatever, but we’re supposed to have the answers and we just don’t havethe answers at the moment. It’s disconcerting at times, but you just have to make do. And in terms of the players attitude, I think without doubt, everyone’s been understanding. It’s human nature to just– to soldier on, and I think, professional sport has been very hard hit, but I think there are so many examples of other industries or other people, or whatever, who are way more impacted than sport at the end of the day. People who are effectivelyrisking their lives, et cetera, and that is a common theme that comes through fromthe players as well. Everyone acknowledges that, they see that, but rugby players in themain are very optimistic and everyone just wants to play. They’re chomping at the bit, so it’s quite easy, growth, mindset, all that sort of stuff. Where they’re alwayslooking for the next thing. So, I think they’re copingpretty well with it. – Coping is one of the themes that I’d love to touch on. We could be stuck talking about the COVID-19 crisis, andit’s not going anywhere any time soon. But while we’re making positive moves in New Zealand at least, TJ, I wanted to broaden this discussion out to be more about the players in general. Even without COVID hitting, what are the pressuresthat are currently endured by the players, both physical and mental in our game? And do we do enough byway of that pastoral care to make sure that ourplayers at all levels are given the support they need? Because it’s a tough job. – It is a high pressure job, it’s fun, like you look up to it and I always wanted to be a footy player and havebeen given the opportunity to do it for a living. It’s a very privileged position to be in and what they don’t teach you is, like you’re talkingabout, the added pressures that do come with it. It is a high workload, you’re on the go all year round, and I personally believethat all footy players should be ready to goand play every weekend of the year. Regardless of if it’s you’re off season, or if it’s not, causethat’s part of our job. Our job is to be ready to play. So, there’s one pressure, there’s that pressure of trying– that needing to be incondition all year round. Yeah, I’m going on holiday with my family, but part of that holiday is my prep to being in that next season. So, there’s that pressure, but the pressure that I think that we miss a little bit to educate people on, especially young kidscoming into the game. Is the social mediapressure and the pressure from media itself. So, it is a lot of– so, you see a young kidcoming into the game with high potential, alot of people will boost that kid up. They will say he’s awesome, people on social mediawill make these comments that they’re awesome, media will do the same thing. And as soon as that kiddoes something wrong or plays poorly, those exact same people will bring that kid back down. So, there’s no real education on that and how to deal with that. It’s very tough causethey’re young kids coming into those situations, but that is another pressure that people don’t think of, and especially the people who are saying thosethings don’t think of. So, it’s a two way street there, I think there needs to be education for the people saying it, but then for these kids that are coming into the game, on how to deal with it. And I guess, how to not fear it is probably the easiest way, but yeah, that’s where I think a lot of work needs to be done into preparing people for that side of things. – It’s a two-way street though, isn’t it, because players want to engage with their own fans personally. Whether that’s because of endorsements, marketing opportunities, just because they wannahave a conversation with the people whofollow them in the sport. So, sometimes when youdance with the devil, you get burned, and so, we know we live in anage where social media is huge in professional sport and across society full stop. People are engaging in these platforms. Sarah, I know the Black Ferns, you and your teammates,and a lot of the women in our game are verybig in terms of the use of social media as a platform. Do you find that that comes with pitfalls as well, or largely is the criticismdirected at the men, not at our women’s players? – Well, yeah, I think exactly that, around the education around social media is a big part, and it’s kind of hard to get education on something that we actually don’t know, and especially in New Zealand. It is so different tothe rest of our game, and if you look at it in a– I suppose for me as a Sevens player, and a woman Sevens player; our games, our girls and our game are getting younger and younger. Now we’re seeing girls get picked straight out of school, which is a lot differentobviously to how we came into the sport. So, they first of all, don’t– they’re young, they don’teven know who they are, let alone then have to conduct themselves on such a wide level. And that’s a hard onebecause with, I suppose, women’s sport, we actuallyhave to leverage off social media to notjust create a following, but create a following not individually, but for our sport, for women’s sport, for the Black Fern Sevens. And that’s a big part of our game, so it is challenging because you want these kids to– we wanna be normal, butthen we also want them to then promote themselves, and promote the Black Fern Sevens on a social media platform, and that’s quite hard. But I think the critis– we haven’t had a lot of criticism in women’s sport, and especially the Black Fern Sevens. So, we are quite lucky in that sense, but I still find that inNew Zealand especially, that we do get tall poppy syndrome, and a lot of our men’splayers are criticised. And I don’t think that that’s– it’s pretty tough on them, and especially when you’re 18, 19 years old. – Mm-hmm, Conrad, your career kind of was a transition period between (laughs) boys finishing a game,sitting around and talking about the game, and having a beer and most of the teamsitting on their phones talking to 10,000 strangers. Did you notice the rise of social media and devices among your teammates? – Yeah, for sure, it was– and it’s interestingjust hearing the chat now because the points beenmade, social media, dealing with that hasn’t been educated to the players because it hasn’t been around that long. It’s new, and for me, I suppose, I straight away, maybe it’s my nature, but I straight away saw maybe the threat and the danger of it. So, I’ve never gone near it, but I think I was about the only one in the rugby world that didn’t. So, yeah, and I could see the problems that TJ and Sarah are talking about, and they’ve come to pass. And so, that’s why now rugby maybe we’ve been a bit slow, who knows? But now there is, I think, a lot more help around, in that area, more help can obviously be offered, but it requires educationon everyone’s part. And I think it’s stillreally being understood even now and now, like everyone’s been saying, it’s a job for the people that work with these players, and work with New Zealand rugby. I suppose it applies all around the world to help, especially theyoung guys and girls getting into the game, and to deal with this part of it. – One thing that’s certainly opened up through the power of social media, certainly through thepower of a globalised communications world is that, players here have been able to see rugby in other parts of the world. And have been attracted to go to those other parts of the world, and Ports, you have facilitated a lot of that player movement. I wanted to talk about the lure of the black jersey. We hear it all the timein a New Zealand context that our players stayhere because the lure of the jersey is so strong. But we do see an evergrowing shift in mindset that this is a profession, and that surely as individuals, you should be gettingthe best market value for your skills as anyone else in any profession would get. Ports, first of all, if I can come to you and just ask you, what is the size, the scale of the global player market before COVID and after? – Yeah, well, I mean, if you just think about at the top level, there’s probably 20 clubs in Japan that have big budgets. When I say big budgets, I mean, budgets that there is enough money to lure guys away from playing in New Zealand. And they’ll all have about 50 players in those squads, not allof them professional, but more or less. Then top 14 up with Conrad, and then the pro leagues 12 teams, and the premierships, 12teams as well, I think. So, that’s however many, 50 odd teams around the world and then you’ve got the emergence of the USA, and the South American League. Which didn’t quite get off the ground, and that sort of stuff. It’s bigger than NewZealand everywhere else because we’ve really only got five full-time professional teams, but in France, you’ve got, as I said, 14 et cetera. So, and the salary capswere going up and up, there was the playerssalaries have gone up. Post COVID they will come down, I mean, it’s just as simple as that. Already it was harder to get into places well, in my time, I’ve seen the overseas playing numbers, or theforeign players drop as France has made a real move to contract French players. UK and Ireland changed their rules a while back as well to incentivize teams to make sure they had local talent. And that’s what we’ll see. We will see it just getting harder to get in, and also, I just don’t anticipate seeing the same amount of money in the game. So, the guys who do giveup playing down here because of the moneythat’s on offer overseas, it just won’t be the same. Guys still go over for – to do something different, or to maintain levels of income, or to give their family an experience overseas, but it’s definitely gonna shrink. – The lure of the black jersey, TJ, is it strong, is it everything that people say it is? – For a big part, yup, I do think it is. There’s like me for example, I’ll just speak on my behalf. It’s definitely there– when you’re a young kidand you’re growing up, you don’t care about the money, you don’t care about anything else, you just wanna play for the All Blacks. And I genuinely believe that that is 100% still there. You’ve still got people, and it’s probably drivenfrom their parents being one year, in the cot saying, they’re gonna be an All Black one day, they’re gonna be an All Black one day. So, that’s all they hear, and so that drive isdefinitely still there. I think where it changes, and I’m not saying that the lure is not there as much, but where the competition comes in with the black jerseyis when you get to a certain age and I guess, your priorities might change. Where again, I refer to myself, having a kid on the way,having a wife at home, and being an All Blackactually takes you away from home for a very long period of time. You play Super Rugby throughout the year, you travel South Africa, you’re away every other weekend playing against either aNew Zealand super rugby team or an Australian team. Then if you play for the All Blacks, you’re away for that three week period in June, July, for that time. Then you go to the Rugby Championship then you’re on the end of your tour. And weighing up playingfor the All Blacks, and it’s not always competing with money in that sense. It’s time with my family, that’s the big decision, and that’s where I thinkit’s not that the lure is worse or it’s less, it’s just that there’s more competition. Because priorities and peoples lives tend to change. – I guess, for the Black Ferns, especially the Sevens, Sarah, the fact is it’s one in the same. The Black Ferns is the professional team, so if you want to getpaid to play the game and wear the black jersey, it’s the perfect scenario, but there’s only one of them. – Yeah, that’s it, wedon’t have the luxury of having all these other competitions, and all these different lures. But like TJ said, there will come a time when– especially in the Sevens environment, we travel so much of the year. We’re away constantly, and there will hopefully come a time where you either choose between Fifteens and Sevens, and then looking at even some of theprofessional teams in Japan at the moment and the amount of Kiwi’s who miss out on playingfor that black jersey. Have actually gone over to Japan to play in a fully professional environment. So, it’s awesome that– I hope that challenge does come in the women’s game because it just means that our game’s getting bigger globally, and in New Zealand as well. – The routine that you spoke about, TJ, I know how much of a grind it must be. You do spend an awful lot of time on the road. Conrad, you’ve been through all of this, so you know only too well the pressures of the constant travel,the constant moving. That routine, how much ofa drag does that become the longer you stay inthe professional game? – It’s tough, it’s just like TJ said. It’s funny, you start the travel and even the hotels, and things like that, the highlight of playing footy. And then, how very quickly it becomes suddenly something you put up with, and then something that you just– the one thing you wishyou didn’t have to do. And it’s always obviouslywhen you’re talking about playing for the All Blacks, it’s like, of courseyou’re happy to travel around the world to get the chance. You put on the jerseyand it feels worthwhile, but it’s life. You start, like TJsaid, priorities change, and suddenly, it’s notas if the uniqueness and specialness of pulling on the jersey diminishes, but it’s suddenly there’sother things that weigh more and more. And suddenly, the decision’s harder. So, that’s where everyone’s individual. You come to that decision, and the All Black jersey is still massive. It’s such a special thingfor New Zealand rugby, and they do a really great job of looking after that, and protecting it. But the world is what it is, and there’s always gonna be opportunities for players elsewhere. Look, it’s not a bad thing, I think New Zealand rugby’s done a really good job up until now. Now they’ve got some new challenges, but I’m sure they’ve got people there to think of new ways to take those head on. I’m glad you broughtup the word individual because if we considerthat our conversation so far has been rather positional, that’s kind of where we’re at. I wanted to move into the potential now, and TJ, I know that in many ways, you and your team mate, Ardie Savea are really leading the charge on this. But should the individualbe more celebrated in what is a unique team sport? Can individuals derivevalue in their individual work that doesn’t impinge on the team, and the benefits thatthe team should derive? – In what sense do you mean? So, outside of the game you mean? – Yeah, I think just inso many sports we have, for want of a better term, super stars. And team sports, we all know that there are stars, and there are individualswithin those teams who are off on their own direction. They turn up for game time, absolutely they’re part of the team, but we all know they’re not quite. There’s something special about them, rugby as we’ve spoken about in episodes one and two; tends to be very team first. So, the ability for anindividual to go out there and star as an individual outside of the white lines can be quite difficult. So, how do you find the balance? – I think there’s massive growth in this exact area for rugby, especially in New Zealand rugby. I think if you look atthe NBA, for example, LeBron James is his own brand, within the brand of the NBA. And probably bigger to a– there’s an argument for that, but the way that he portrays himself as an individual, the way he does business as an individual and his own brand as LeBron James. Creates so much more value for the NBA because people wanna see LeBron James, do what LeBron James does with his I Promise School. You have people whodon’t even like the NBA, or like basketball, support LeBron James because of that, whichnow brings more attention to the game of basketball, which grows basketball. That’s like I think someonein New Zealand rugby who’s doing it well, but still I feel like it could be done way better if there wasn’t as many, I don’t wanna say restrictions. But the right word is guidelines probably, Ardie’s one of them,and Baz is one of them, who do it exceptionally well. And you look at Baz for example, on the stuff he’s doing on his social through, I dunno, like Red Bull. That’s bringing all of these people who support X Games and that, a part of Red Bull, now they know Beauden Barrett, who’s a rugby player. That just opens their scope to rugby, if you know what I mean. So, I think if we can worktogether in this part, and I know it’s gonna be hard because there is brand association with New Zealand rugby, and I definitely understand that. And that’s what we need to do because those brandshelp keep our game alive, but if we can work to a, I guess, an agreement where we’re trying to build those individual brandsoutside of the game. That as a by product,build the game itself, I think is a good thing. – And it kind of leads me into talking about the women’s programme, Sarah, because we have a lotof sponsorship models in New Zealand rugby where if you are a sponsorof New Zealand rugby, you get everything. Sponsor the All Blacks, and we’ll chip in the BlackFerns, and the Sevens, and the Maori All Blacks as well. Is there an argument tosay that you would like to see women’s rugby carved off, that the sponsors who really want to focus on women’s rugby can havea greater opportunity to invest solely in women’s rugby? If that is where theywant to put their money. – Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved being able to, I suppose, not be a part of the All Blacks brand. Without the All Blacks,let’s be honest, we, us as a women’s game wouldn’t have a lot, and that’s just facts. And I’ve been verygrateful that we are able to have such an amazingbrand to build off, but I think if we are gonna build the women’s game, then we need to, us as players, us as New Zealand rugby, or the players association, whoever it is. We need its own entity, and that doesn’t meanthat we need to branch off and become its own business, but we have to be able to, I suppose, stand on our own two feet if we’re gonna be able to make it its own thing. And it’s been great, I think the way that it’s going, it’s going up and it’s rising, but I think it has taken a very long time to do that. And I’ve been in the gamefor eight to nine years now and it has been really slow. The difference between eight years ago has been extreme, butstill taken its time, and I think that it could grow a lot more rapidly if we were able to potentially, like I said, stand on our two feet and maybe do it that way. – Does the individual become distracting? Conrad, you played with one of the great walking billboards, Dan Carter, who loves a bit of brandassociation of his own. Do the guys who pursue individual brands or their own brand, do they in any way become a distraction for a team? – No, not at all, no, not if– your team should be builtaround bigger things than the individual. So, Dan’s a classic example, obviously he did his thing, but mate, you would never find a guy more dedicated to the team, and who always put the team first. And I think the All Blackshave been really lucky with the fact that our individual stars, Richie McCaw’s, Carter, now TJ, Beaudy, these guys that have an individual brand. They are still very much team players, and so that’s– and that’s what holds New Zealand rugby in such good stead. But just to go back to TJ and even what Sarah’s saying, this is a massive area for rugby. And it’s not just in New Zealand, it’s in world rugby, and some of the discussion’sI’ve been a part of in more recent times with World Rugby. Trying to get them– because when you first present it, it’s very anti-establishment, it’s very against the culture of rugby. And so, to get people that have worked with rugby a long time, to understand the value of the individual, it’s hard. And even for me, ittook someone like a guy, Blaine Scully, who’s a player from the US, who’s recently retired, but he comes from that market. And he was able to say exactly the same thing TJ’s saying. Just that you’ve got LeBron James doing these things inAmerica for American sport, and what he brings tothe game far outweighs any downside of oh,he’s gonna take it away from the game. It’s not like that at all. I know World Rugby’sstarting to look at that, and they have to. When you look at the World Cup, and how little the playersare allowed to promote that event because of the strict, strict regulations and restrictions. Compared to what itcould be with individuals tweeting whatever they wanna tweet, and building a whole market like that. That’s what’s gonna have to happen in the years to come, and I don’t know whatit’s gonna look like. I’m probably the wrongperson to ask (laughs), but I know there’s alot of room for growth in that area, and I’m sure it’ll happen. – What has been your roleso far with World Rugby from a player representative point of view, Conrad? – So, I’m still working with the International Players Association, and so, I’ve sort oftaken that a bit further since I’ve been here in France, close to the base in Dublin. And they obviously represent all the player associations, they try and unify them a little bit if there’s common themes. But also, on international issues, particularly around the World Cup, we’re the sort of actingvoice for the players. And it’s been really interesting for me, it’s been interesting the last few months because obviously we’ve had an election at World Rugby level, and we’ve had Bill Beaumont, Gus Pichot, and they’ve been runningagainst each other. And part of their campaignswas talking with us, and promising a far greater partnership with the players. Now that’s come to– they’ve had the election,and Bill’s won it, so it’s gonna be interesting to see how he delivers. Cause there was some pretty big promises that were made to players. Yeah, it’s gonna be an interesting time, I think, for the game. – Is some of that about owning the game, and what do you guys feel, Sarah, what do you guys feel about the stake you have currently in the game? Do you feel like you have enough ownership of the direction of rugby? – I think for a part of it, yeah, and especially if I talkabout rugby New Zealand. Like right from the get go we’ve been involved in conversations about our game. We’re constantly on calls with Rob Nichol. I think he is actually a big part of us being involved, because he will stand up for us for pretty much anything that the game or us players need. So, we’ve been fortunate enough to work a lot with him, but I think in a World Rugby sense, I don’t think that playersvoice is there enough, and I think that that’s probably something that we need to grow as much as we can to– cause at the end of the day, we’re the ones who are playing it, we’re the one’s who are going through the scenarios that they’re obviously making decisions on. So, I think it’s pretty important that players do get that voice and that seat at the table. Brendan Schwab from World Players, which is a body thatrepresents 85,000 athletes in professional sports around the world has come out today and said, “Look, COVID poses significant risks to professional athletes,given the symptoms and some of the problems it can cause.” And there is talk of being put at risk, TJ, you guys have been asked to go back to work basically, at an amazing time. Have you guys felt canvassed enough in terms of what the risks are, how you mitigate them, and do you all feel safe about returning to play at a time like this? – We haven’t been given the details on how trainings and that are gonna look. I think we have Zoom calls over the next couple days on that. My initial reaction to it, I was nervous. I just feel opening upand playing the game, you create so many more bubbles that now have extended. So, me playing against Reiks for example, at the Blues, I’ve opened up to him by coming into contact with him. Therefore, our familieshave come into contact and stuff like that. So, I don’t know how that’s– or what’s gonna be theregulations behind it, but my initial reaction was, I was a little bit nervous about it. I’m confident that we’lldo the right things and make sure that allthe right procedures are in place before we go out on the field and play together, or even train together. So, over the next few days, I hope we get a littlebit more detail on that. I just wanna go back to a point that Sarah made about the women’s game and going and standingon their own two feet. Cause I completely agree, but I know people who watch this, and they’ll be like, okay, well don’t have any association with the All Blacks, don’t do any of that. Where I think that’s stupid, and I think it’s wrong, cause I feel like, the Black Ferns, andI’m a massive advocate for it as well, can standon their own two feet, and can do– be their own, I guess, is it, I think entity. Entity’s the right word hey? There with the backing of the All Blacks, with the backing of NewZealand Rugby Union. I think you can do both, and a lot of people will say, if you wanna go standon your own two feet, okay, you get no help there. Where I genuinelybelieve as the All Blacks and as New Zealand Rugby Union, we should be wanting the Black Ferns, and wanting the Black Ferns sevens team to be standing on their own two feet. But assisting that andreally pushing that, and helping that, that’s just something I wanted to touch on before we moved on, yeah. – Yeah, it’s funny for me, TJ, I’m glad you brought that up because, what always comes before any story about a Black Fern rugby player, especially Fifteens, iswhat she does for a job. And it’s almost like, we sell boys the dream of rugby, and we sell our girls the fight. And you sometimes– I understand that the All Blacks can’t prop up everything. They’re already responsiblefor the vast majority of revenues in this game, but it seems to me like every time we take a step forward for women’s rugby we take a step back. Sarah, you see these stories all the time, and they invariably start with, here’s Charmaine Smith,she’s a police woman. But at what point do we get, here’s Charmaine Smith, the professional rugby player? – I just wanna appreciate TJ and what you say about our game, like you’re a massive advocate for the Black Ferns, and the women’s game in general. And without people like you– we appreciate that support massively. So, it definitely doesn’tgo unnoticed in our game. In terms of what you said Sumo, it’s actually quite crazy, whenever you get asked what you do, even for us Black Ferns Sevens players. I say I play rugby for a living, and they say, oh, no, but what do you do to make money? (laughs) I’m like, yeah, that’s what I do, and the amount of people that actually can’tbelieve that you do that for a living, and then they kind of all ask three or four times; no, but what do you do for a living? I just sometimes have to walk away because I actually want it to a point where I can show my niece that, this is what I did for a living. I got paid to do this, and just because you’re a female, it actually doesn’t matter. And there shouldn’t be a stereotype there, like I want young girlsto, when they are born, that their parents wantthem to be a Black Fern. That’s the same as what an All Black has, and when you have a sonor whatever like that. So, I hope one day it’s the same. – Creating those opportunities, you touched on it earlier, Sarah, about creating events for women, and it’s just the same in the men’s game. In episode two, Bart Campbell, newly appointed NewZealand rugby board member talked about the factthat we need to market our game better. We need to be thinkingabout the experience for the fans, what a test match occasion actually means. Simon mentioned, Conrad,about his experiences with you up in the French Top League, and how that worked, and how those games are staged. Have you noticed a big difference in the atmosphere betweenwhat a traditional Super Rugby game was in New Zealand, and what a Top 14 game is like in France? – Yeah, it’s something you sort of notice the first time you arrive at a game, an hour before kick off. And literally, this is– every game I played, the bus would arrive an hour and a halfprobably before a kick off. Walk out to a thousands lined tunnel, into your changing room. I hadn’t seen that many fans in the last home game I played in Super Rugby, and this is– the game hadn’t even started. So, it’s like I say, younotice it straight away, and yeah, the French do it– they do it very well, and it’s interesting because it’s all very localised. A lot of the conversationsthat I’m hearing now from New Zealand becauseyou’re obviously going back to this Super Rugbywithin New Zealand, and using the local darbies. The thing is, France, it’s a population base though (laughs), you’re talking about millions and millions of people across each region. And New Zealand’s a– look, love it to death but 5 million, where are you gonna getthe numbers to support that for a sustained amount of time. Look, I would love it to happen, I’d absolutely love it to happen, and I played in a empty seat era where we filled the stadium in a round robin game. So, I think it can be done, but it’s yeah, there’s a lot that remains to be seen now. But that’s something that’s gonna be really interesting, and just seeing how the public– even in France, I know the questions are being asked howeveryone’s gonna respond, and whether we’re gonnaget the crowds back straight away, how long it’s gonna take. But yeah, it’s a fascinating time. – It’s all that stuff around the game though, isn’t it? And that’s what we discussed in the last episode, TJ, it’s the festival natureof some of these games. When you go and play a test match up north against Wales,or against England, or against France for that matter. You know it’s a very different atmosphere to what happens here inthis part of the world. Do you guys sometimes think, oh, we wish we could have something a little bit different, we wish there was a different atmosphere, or a different experiencefor us and our fans? – Yeah, I think we do. Don’t get me wrong, Ilove playing at home, I love playing in front of our fans and stuff like that, but it is completely different. We’re on the receiving end of that other atmosphere (laughs) when we play in France,or we play in England, or we play in South Africa. It’s not like we’re getting all the support there, we’re getting hammered. But it’s still like an awesome atmosphere to be a part of, and it’s– you do the Haka at Twickenham for example, and I can’t hear the boys, or the boys can’t hearme leading the Haka. That’s what it’s like, and it’s– yeah, it is just different, it’s an event. I have spoken to a lotof people over there and fans and that, and they’re not just going for the game. They’re going to have afew beers before the game with their friends outside, cause they have carts and that all setup. So, it’s an event that they go for, not just the game of rugby where I think you sort of talk about marketing just before. We market the game ofrugby, and we do it well, but we don’t market the experience of going to a rugby game as more than the 80 minutes that youget out on the field. Which you see at all around the world. You go to an NBA game, it’s a whole experience,not just the game, and that’s where we could grow – Yeah, I agree, Sarah, you’re so used to itbecause a Sevens event is a festival. So, you know that your14 minutes on the field is part of something much, much bigger, but again, there’s probably room within the Sevens programme to adapt and change as well. And to make sure that these festivals are attracting not justa traditional crowd, but an expanded crowd. Have you guys put a lot of thought into how you would market yourselves in the context of theevent you’re putting on? – Well, it starts with an event, it’s not just a game, or a tournament, or a few games. It’s actually a massive event, and when you’re able to sell it like that, you’re able to incorporateso many different things that are involved. So, in terms of the Sevens game, I think as a marketing point of view, we’re marketed so across the world, and we play globally, and we play in all these different countries. But we actually don’t really then get to play in New Zealand, and we are not marketed, really at all, until we played in Hamilton this year, in New Zealand. And that’s, I think, asa game and as a team, it’s quite difficult tothen become relatable to people in New Zealand. We obviously are not able to create those connections that other, I suppose, other teams get to have if they do then have fans in New Zealand. I think this COVIDthing actually might get us to do that. We might be able to have a domestic comp where we play in– maybe not in front of fans, but at least maybe grow it, maybe in the next couple of years. Where we get to play infront of New Zealanders, and I think that’s actually a really positive for us. We’re able to then create, like I said, those connections and those relationships with people here in New Zealand, which we don’t get to do. A couple of notes onwhat we’re talking about, the event and then themarketing of those events. We keep hearing talkabout a global calendar, about trying to come up with meaningful test match seasons and years outside of Rugby World Cup. TJ, what about thecurrent player workload, I mean, how close to the edge are some of our senior players, and how many minutes on the field are expected from them, and commitments outside of the playing of the game too? So, if we are close to the edge, does something like a global calendar really stack up from aplayer point of view? – I’m probably a little bit different to some people on my views on this. I love the game, and I love playing it, so my workload on the field, I don’t mind too much howmuch that increases by cause I know I’ve gotsuch a short time span in this game. So, one day it’s gonna be all over, and I’m not gonna be ableto run out on the field and stuff like that. So, I get the player welfare, and trying to have longevity and stuff, but I wanna play footy. What’s the tough bit, I think, is we touched on it earlier, the travelling side of it. Would be the bit that would weigh me down more than anything. Not playing the games, it’s the workload outside of the games itself, I think is something that for me personally, and for a lot of players that I know would be the hardest bit with it. But then there’d bepeople on the flip side who would say theworkload on the field is. So, there needs to be that balance, we need to get that right, but I think anything for the game, to make the game better, to help grow the game, I think, is something we should be doing. (crosstalk) In all forms of the game too. – [Scotty] Yeah. – Not just the top tier teams, the tier one teams. If we’re gonna go intothat global competition or whatever it is, I think we need to havetier two teams, here too. Like you look at the Pacific Islands, they helped so manydifferent teams in the world and it’s not just NewZealand or Australia, it’s France, it’s England, it’s Wales. It’s all of those teams, we need to be incorporatingthose teams too. – It’s something thatyou guys have obviously spent a lot of time discussing, Conrad, from an international rugby player’s point of view, you spoke about Bill Beaumont’s election. You spoke about promises made, is this going to take a lot of your time in the coming monthstrying to work through some kind of globalised structure? – Yeah, and TJ’s touched on it, a couple interesting points because this is the difficult thing when you’re trying to bring a united player voice. There’s very different– the way players are lookedafter in New Zealand is very good, the workload balance. So, they’ve got it pretty good, and then you come up north, and in Ireland, they do it really well. But then, you get to France and England, and that’s where the ploughed workload comes about, and it’s notalways number of games. It’s the chopping and changing between an international and club season. It’s a nightmare for– I didn’t truly appreciateit until I came up here and saw how crazy it was. That they go into their– like in New Zealand, it’s amazing. Y’know you play Hurricanesfor four, five months, you go play All Blacksfour or five months, you have a couple of months off. It’s perfect, but for these guys to go back and forth, and then sort of miss out on a holiday because of which– and that’s just if you’re lucky if you’re in the French squad. If you’re a Fijian player going down to play for Fiji, and then coming back to play club. Doing that two or threetimes a year, it’s mad, but look, there is a lot of conversations around this, and I actually think asolution might not be too far away. And I think, it’ll take a lot of work, maybe this pandemic’sprovided the opportunity and look, I think all we’re after, and it ties in with what we’re talking about marketing. If we can market the game and have a club competition, and an international season, that’s just easy to understand. Then we’re gonna open up a market, because at the moment, we know, we’re Kiwi’s, we know wheninternationals are on. We know the Six Nations, but anyone else, it’s madness, there’s games going on all the time in these club competitions with no uniformity. It’s very hard to follow to someone in the Asian market. So, this—- it’s not gonna add more games, some of the models I’ve seen, it’s just smarts, justmoving things around. It’s gonna require a bit of compromise, but I think we could end up with something that does grow the game. But it’s gonna take some compromise from parties that traditionally don’t like compromising. (laughs) – There’s a lot of thatin the game, for sure. Yeah (laughs). Ports, does it excite you? In fact, I just wanna go back one step before I change the subject because in episode two, Simon, you mentioned the factthat if we’re gonna have an international game,which is the pinnacle of our sport. Then you have to have the best players in the world playing international rugby. You mentioned the Rugby League model, which might not be perfect, but at least, wheninternational Rugby League hits the stage, when aWorld Cup is happening. You make sure by hook or by crook, you fit the best players into some team if they’re deserving of playing. We have a situation where some of the best rugby players in the world, by virtue of eligibility laws, or club commitments arenot getting the chance to play international rugby. TJ, is there a feeling amongst New Zealand players about– let’s just throw a name in the hat, Charles Piutau, for instance, and should he be entitled to star on the world stage, given the calibre ofplayer we’re talking about? – Yeah, I think so. I think, you should have– my personal view is, you shouldn’t be allowed to– (laughs) (crosstalk) – There’s gonna be a difference of opinion here I can see it brewing. (laughs) – Shouldn’t be able to– – You’ve picked a hell of an issue. (laughs) – And then go and play for, I don’t know, South Africa, for example, who is a country that Ihave no birth right to, or anything like that, no heritage to. But if I am of Tongan descent, and I play for the All Blacks, I should be able to wait, I think a calendar year, and then play for Tonga. I think so. I shouldn’t be able topick another team and get like rights, that way, just a random team, but if I have birth rights here, or if I have heritage there. I think yeah, it could be good. – What about you, Sarah, I know it doesn’t seemto be as big an issue in the women’s game, but from a rugby point of view, would you agree that having players able to represent more than one country through heritage status or otherwise is a good move? – Oh, to be honest, I’mactually not too sure. I would love to see, like you say, the best players in the world playing, but then it comes back down to them making their own decisions. And obviously, players have made decisions to go and not stay in New Zealand, and if we’re thinking about it, that one particular player. But I find it hard to judge, I don’t know. I have never been in that position. So, yeah, it’s a pretty difficult one for me to answer. – Straight bat, straight bat. (laughs) (crosstalk) That actually went through to the keeper. (laughs) I think. Do you play cricket? – Yeah. (laughs) – All right, I recognise that smile on Conrad Smith’s face. – (laughs) Yeah. – It’s the smile he gets when he knows he wants to say something, but he’s not sure he can. (laughs) – I’m actually the same as TJ, and there was, if we wanna go into this homecoming clause, which was put forward to World Rugby a few years ago. It was only just missed out and it would allow guys to go back, if they had genuine ties to a country, and they served a certain amount of time. And it was just a once off, obviously you can’t change more than once. Then I see room for that. The one thing, I suppose it’s in my– in the work and trying to get a united player voice on this. You then talk to guys from Argentina, or Canada, and they’re actually really against this for the obvious reason that what are the– for them, they were bringing up all this homegrown talent. They don’t wanna see some– these Pacific Islandscause that’s generally who will benefit mostlyfrom a clause like this. They’re sort of saying– and that’s what sort of to me, when I heard them speakabout it and against it, it sort of pulled me back a little bit. But so, it’s a tricky issue. I still think there’s room for a clause because it won’t get used a lot there. If it’s five or sixplayers, Charles Piutau, or a few others, Victor Vito, if he serves a long time and really wants to go back and they’re really gonna help the nation, they’re really gonna grow the game. I think there’s room for that, but it is, when you start looking and talking to other countries, and there’s a few otherissues to weigh up. – But Sumo, this is the thing, I get that, and of course the players, and we look at it differentlycause we’re Kiwi’s and we’re used to the demographics within our sport. And we understand, likeit always frustrates me when the English say, oh, you go and raid the Islands or whatever. And it’s like, well, mate, most of them were bornhere, now generationally et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, they do look at differently, but for me, the Canadians,the Argentinians, et cetera, I get that. I get their point ofview, but they don’t– if we wanna grow the game, this is the exact issues we have, it’s self-interest. Everything in rugby and our inability to change or make decisions comes back because everyone goes, oh well, it doesn’t suit them. And we get their pointof view, or whatever, but this comes back to all the points about putting something better to market or whatever. And we had the discussion the other day, it was around the commercial side of it, and if rugby is gonna be the pinnacle, if rugby– test match rugby, sorry, is gonna be the pinnacle, why are we not allowing the best players to play in it? Why do we have a WorldCup where we don’t have the best players in the world playing? From a pure commercialsense, it just seems– and if we can all align on that and go, yup, okay, well we’re gonna– Snakey says, it’s compromise, but we’re compromisingto make a better product. We’re compromising to keep teams more– teams in the competition longer so that we actually havegenuine conversations about which 10 teams aregonna win the World Cup. Not which of the five or six. That’s where I come from, I get the human side of it, but to take rugby forward, we’ve gotta get passed self-interest. – All right, guys well, here’s a way to end this conversation, I mean, (laughs) and it doesn’t feel like an hour’s passed. I mean, it’s incrediblelistening to you all and your insights, but I just wanted to finish like we did with our first episodewith a little statement from you all about where you see the game right now and where you want it to go. And if, Sarah, I can start with you, just summing up where you think you’re at, where the women’s gamesat, where rugby is at, and what is on your hit list of things to achieve in the very near future? – I think we’re at a good point, but I think, like I said before, we need to grow. And that growth has to happen pretty soon if we’re gonna continue,especially in the– not just in the women’s sense, but the Sevens as well. I think with this COVIDgives us an opportunity to market ourselves in New Zealand, and to be able to play in New Zealand. And I think that’sreally important for us, and then also, with theSevens World Series, I think there’s anopportunity there as well. But I think us being– especially this year, we were able to play six tournaments alongside the men, and for us, having that actually boosted, I think, our game a lot more. Because we weren’t able to have that, the crowds and obviously there comes a lot of different things. So, I think we’re at a good place, I think there needs tobe a lot more growth in it, and I definitelywill be trying to push for that growth over the next couple of years in our sport. – Conrad, from a moreglobalised point of view, as someone who’s working in management now and French club rugby. Also, your club has its eyes in different markets too, and you’re so well versedin New Zealand rugby. Where do you see it from your point of view right now? – Well, to be honest– back to what I said right at the start. I think potentiallyit’s exciting for rugby, but at the moment, we’re at the mercy of something way bigger than rugby. And until that all gets sorted out, it’s hard for most people to talk too much about rugby. You sort of go in your little room, and you plan, but then you come out. This is the exact experience for us at the moment. We plan a pre-season, but we know it’s all on bigger things at the moment and we wait on government directives. And that’s just thereality up here in Europe, so I suppose, that’s the position where I’m coming fromat this point in time. – TJ, what’s exercisingyour mind, TJ Perenara? (laughs) – I think we’re at a really cool spot for an opportunity at Super Rugby. To bring some real excitement back into Hurricanes vs Blues, Hurricanes vs Crusaders, Hurricanes vs Chiefs and that real big rivalry there because we’re going to beplaying each other a lot over the next little while. So, Snakey’s touched on the point where I don’t know ifwe’re gonna be playing in front of fans or anything, but the point where they were selling out empty seat games. That’s an awesome thingto try and aspire to do, and I think we’ve got an opportunity because we gonna be playing this with local competition. To really get those grudges, for lack of a better word, going, because we’re gonna beplaying each other a lot. There’s gonna be a lot of people around the country who support the ‘Canes, for example, who will beseeing us play against all of the other teams, week in, week out. Which I think, couldbring some really cool energy around the sport in our country, which will be fun. – You spoke about going back to clubs, you spoke about tribalism in episode one. Can we recreate that in Super Rugby? Has the horse not bolted? – (laughs) I think itwould be awesome if we– I don’t know what next year’s gonna look like either, but if there’s an opportunity to play more home games against each other, man, I see it beingawesome for the country, and awesome for the people who support us. Cause they wanna be atthose sorts of games, they wanna see Beaudy play the Hurricanes, for example. That’s a game that peoplewanna go out and see, and we– if we can get more of that sort of stuff, more of those sort of rivalries. It’s only good for the game. – Well, we’ll get a chance to see him up close soon enough. – Yeah, we looking forward to that. (laughs) – I’m predicting a lot of yellow cards in the opening rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa that’s for sure. Ports, over the last three episodes, mate, we’ve had the pleasure to listen to people at the real pointy end of our game. I mean, if there’s one way to sum up the last three episodes of conversations, what would it be? – Well, I just think it’s just been great to facilitate conversations, and particularly this one. This has been awesome just sitting here and watching three reallysmart and intelligent people who advocate for their game and their peers. And I say, the game, the greater game. We’ve got these people in the game, they wanna advocate for the game, and it’s great to be able to see them have the conversations. And everyone’s sitting there thinking about these things, and it’s just– that’s all we’re trying to do is spark the conversation and hopefully, that can carry onhappening for a while yet. – Well, I tell you what, we’re gonna have a bonus conversation coming up too because we’re extending to an episode four. We’ve got a couple ofprovincial rugby CEO’s and a CEO out of the heartland as well, who have enjoyed these conversations. And would love to puttheir views across to you, our viewers, as well. So, we can’t wait for that. Sarah Hirini, TJ Perenara, Conrad Smith, thank you, so, so much for joining us on Rugby Unwrapped. Simon, thanks to you and to Halo Sport for presenting this chat.- Thanks Sumo. – And we’ll catch up with episode four soon enough. Cheers everyone. – Ka kite. – Thank you, cheers Scotty. – Thanks team. (upbeat music) (air whooshing)

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