Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former All Black
MARK ROBINSON on the challenges of
parenthood, whether he rates Ruan Pienaar and the Rugby Championship decider
in Sydney on Saturday.
asked: What’s more challenging - early stages of parenthood or playing for the
Robinson: Definitely the early stages of parenthood.
Never in my life have I been so unprepared. It’s an eye-opener, and even
though my partner and I have gone through all the steps, it’s still taking a
leap into the unknown. You feed her, bath her and change the nappy, but when
she doesn’t settle, you say to yourself, “What’s going on now?” I feel a bit
out of my depth to be honest.
asked: Nick Mallett recently described the All Blacks as the most innovative
team in the world. Having experienced said environment, tell us why they
continually find new ways to win?
Robinson: The All Blacks are incredibly innovative
because they keep pushing the boundaries and challenging themselves as
individuals and a collective. Having been privy to the All Blacks environment, they
are always looking for ways to change the game. In terms of the class of 2015,
it was a fantastic move from Steve Hansen to bring in Wayne Smith, who was
assistant coach at the 2011 World Cup. Wayne is not only a fantastic man, but a great student of the game. I was coached
by him and he is someone who lives for rugby and is able to get the most out of
his players. His understanding of the game is second to
none and he offers a different approach. The All Blacks won’t infuse new
strategies just for the sake of it, but will constantly evolve to be one step
ahead of the chasing pack. As a player, it’s up to you if you want to play for
the All Blacks. By that I mean you have to live up to the high standards the
team set. Julian Savea is one of the best wingers in the world, but he has only
just returned to the starting line-up this week because he was not fit enough.
asked: You played three Tests for the All Blacks. What did the black jersey
mean to you?
Robinson: Whether it was one Test
or 100, I realised how special it was to play for my country and valued every
game I played. I didn’t have many opportunities to pull on the black jersey – I
started in 1996 – and sat on the bench a number of times behind Justin Marshall,
which was a pain in the behind, but that is just how it worked out. I finished
with the All Blacks in 2002 and, ironically, that was the time when they started
to experiment more with the rolling substitutes. Before then, your opposite number
literally had to be stretchered off for you to get game time. Every match I
played, I soaked up my time in the jersey because I wasn’t sure whether or not
it would be my last.
Sport24 asked: How would you compare Marshall
to Aaron Smith, and do you rate Ruan Pienaar?
Mark Robinson: Marshall was a phenomenal player and read the
game incredibly well. He wasn’t necessarily the quickest or the best passer,
but he made the right decisions more times than not and was one of the toughest
characters mentally. However, the game today is a lot quicker and the All
Blacks are really pushing to play the game at a high tempo. Smith is the type
of player, who can get to the breakdown as quickly as possible, and he passes
well and his kicking game is incredibly accurate. I have previously been
critical of Pienaar, but I’ve been very impressed with him over the last couple
of games. He has been much quicker and more accurate at the breakdown, as the
emphasis has changed. I also rate Cobus Reinach, and the more he plays, the
better he will become.
Sport24 asked: Discuss the proud tradition of
the Maori All Blacks, and whether you believe South Africa should consider
selecting an equivalent team made up entirely of ethnic black players.
Mark Robinson: As New Zealanders, we are proud of our
ancestry, with the Maori the original indigenous people of New Zealand. The
Maoris were traditionally great warriors and the English knew they couldn’t defeat
them when attempting to colonize our country in the early 19th Century. Maori
is a part of NZ and we are very proud of its history and legacy. I don't think
South Africa can have an equivalent team, as rugby has not been a traditional
sport within the many different clans of SA. As such, I believe it would be
hard for them to connect with the sport the way the NZ Maori do.
Sport24 asked: An ex-NFL player – Taylor Gentry
– is on trial at the Sharks during the Currie Cup. You signed for NZ rugby
league for six months. How are players able to successfully code-swap?
Mark Robinson: I must say it’s incredibly hard to change code even if it is a
slightly similar game. However, my stint with the New Zealand Warriors for just
one season, in the toughest rugby league competition, was one of the best
decisions I ever made during my career. I was fitter, stronger and more
confident within my game once I ended my season with the Warriors, and headed
to the UK to start my Premiership career in the best shape. It takes a
tremendous athlete to successfully code-swap. As such, we have to admire and
respect the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess, as they were the best
in their original sport of rugby league and have been outstanding in rugby
union. Frano Botica was another, who was part of Wigan’s success in the 90s after
playing for the All Blacks.
Sport24 asked: Ex-England international Steve
Thompson once said the overseas contingent at Northampton weren’t pulling their
weight. Is there still a fear of foreign talent in the Premiership?
Mark Robinson: I was playing in Northampton when this so-called
allegation came out. The fact of the matter is that it was myself, Carlos
Spencer and Bruce Reihana, who were playing week-in and week-out and performing
consistently for the club. Bruce and I had both won player of the year at the
club and Carlos was playing superb rugby for the Saints. The loyal supporters
started to lose faith in Thompson and Ben Cohen, and I think egos may have been
bruised when Carlos arrived and the attention moved in his direction. Steve and
Ben naturally tried to turn it against the Kiwis, but they very quickly left
the club. Bruce went on to be captain and Carlos stayed for another two
seasons, so you can do the math as to who was pulling their weight in the eyes
of the supporters and coaches.
Sport24 asked: The All Blacks and Wallabies contest
the Rugby Championship title-decider at ANZ Stadium on Saturday. Offer your
match outlook, and whether Australia could spring a surprise.
Mark Robinson: I believe the Test match in Sydney will be very
tough for the All Blacks as Australia have certainly improved. They have shown
that you cannot underestimate them at all based on previous games or coaching
difficulties. In order to beat the All Blacks, the Wallabies will have to play
their best game and the All Blacks will have to be off theirs. Australia will
have to keep up with the tempo which I expect New Zealand to adopt. If the
former can manage that, then they have a chance of winning, as they certainly
have talent across the board. With the game being played in Sydney, I expect it
to be a close encounter. However, I’m predicting an 8-point win for the All
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