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.
Sport24 asked: What’s more challenging - early stages of parenthood or playing for the All Blacks?
Mark 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.
Sport24 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?
Mark 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.
Sport24 asked: You played three Tests for the All Blacks. What did the black jersey mean to you?
Mark 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 Blacks.PREVIOUS CHATSKobus WieseButch JamesAli WilliamsLwazi MvovoRob LouwTim SwielJano VermaakScarra NtubeniElton JantjiesGary TeichmannCornal HendricksMarco WentzelRoger De SaLaurie Mains