All Blacks Head Coach Scott Robertson: Tiger Shark Encounters & Turning Down England - Ruck

All Blacks Head Coach Scott Robertson: Tiger Shark Encounters & Turning Down England

“Life comes at us in waves. We can’t predict or control those waves, but we can learn to surf.” If there was ever a figure within rugby that embodies the words of American author Dan Millman, it is that of All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson. From surfing with man-eating tiger sharks to taking the Crusaders to the Super Rugby point break, ‘Razor’ is the man that nearly dropped in on Twickenham to lead the England team.

A leading contender to take the England job after Eddie Jones was barrelled out from the role in December 2022, the future could well have been different for Robertson and the RFU. Having spent stints of his playing career with Perpignan and the Ricoh Black Rams, Robertson had enjoyed his fare share of life overseas, and preferred the appeal of remaining with what he had helped build in New Zealand.

“I suppose so, in there was a lot of different aspects (to not taking the job). When you go into that, without talking about any particular ones, you’ve got a lot of factors too, your kids do age.”

“We’d been to France, we’d spent three years in France and a year in Japan. You understood what it was like to bring kids over (to a new country) and then you’re in the next stage of your life.”

“It’s not like when you have kids, and when they leave the roost, what your next steps are. It wasn’t quite sort of working out, so you sort of go deep in all those areas about what would suit us, and it wouldn’t.”

With his family at the forefront of his mind, the stars did not align with Robertson and the England job, despite looking at rather royal options for the Robertson household. The wave did not break for Robertson’s ride to ‘HQ’, as Steve Borthwick was instead appointed to lead the side ahead of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

“We we’re talking about living in a castle at one stage, me and the misses. We were going to end up, but look that’s just the way it worked out.”

“I’ve done my time with club rugby. I thought about going to France, but I didn’t really want to go back into club rugby after my beloved time with the Crusaders.”

“It was time for me to test myself at Test level. The opportunity and time came here with the All Blacks. I did have other opportunities, but my feet are here.”

Robertson is lucky to have his feet firmly planted anywhere, never mind at the head of the All Blacks, as the self confessed ‘water man’ recalled a near miss with a monster of the deep. Harkening back to a South African surf session at the turn of the millennium, the sharp-witted Razor almost came face to face with 336 dagger-like teeth, encased in the mouth of a sand tiger shark.

“Yeah, a tiger shark came out. We were a couple of hours south of Durban, at one of the golf resorts. The guy went in and I was the last one out and I was a little bit like, “Ooooh”… then I saw the shark. It was big. It was massive. I looked around and there was no-one there so I just went straight up on my board and straight in, with my feet up.

“I’d just had a little glance over my shoulder and it was a big thing. When the other guy went in, he could have told me! It was close enough. That was my little moment! You are pretty care-free when you are in the surf but that was just a wee sign (of the danger).”

With a love for the deep blue, Robertson has always taken time to unwind upon his surfboard in the New Zealand waves. The 49-year-old relishes the chance to clear his head with a paddle out on the water, and loves the tranquility and ease of being at one with the ocean. Robertson embodies the down to earth lifestyle of Aotearoa, and expressed how surfing will continue to be a source of calm, in one of rugby’s more pressurised jobs.

“There was 10ft (waves) out there today, I would be in Antarctica now! I do try to go out, yeah, 100 per cent. I still always check the surf reports. It’s still on my app wherever I go. Some guys play golf and I surf. Guys go to the gym, I surf or swim. I’m a water man. I love pools. That’s what it does (clears the head). I exercise every day and that’s my first choice.”

Such off-field peace and level-headedness ensures that all of Robertson’s effort within rugby are results driven. Robertson certainly achieved all in which he set his mind to with the Crusaders, with an unprecedented seven consecutive Super Rugby titles promptly filling up the Christchurch trophy cabinet.

Robertson oversaw an assortment of iconic All Blacks during his time with the Crusaders, and insinuated towards how one of the all time greats paid a recent visit to the New Zealand training camp. Whilst not explicating naming the back-to-back Rugby World Cup winning captain, Robertson heavily hinted to how Richie McCaw has been in camp to get the All Blacks firing for the first England Test this Saturday.

“We have had a couple of ex-All Blacks in, I won’t go into too many names but we have.”

“You can guess. He was a fantastic captain and held up a bit of silverware. He came and spoke to us about what is important coming from Super into Test rugby, that window and what it looks like in that period in between.”

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LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 31: Richie McCaw of New Zealand lifts the trophy after victory during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

One of Robertson’s first points of duty as New Zealand head coach, was his appointment of Crusaders lock Scott Barrett as the nation’s captain. Amidst all the free-flowing attacking rugby that the All Blacks are celebrated globally for, Barrett is a stern workhorse in the engine room, that sets a precedence upon how the baseline need to be done right every single time of asking.

Robertson first came across Barrett during their shared time in the New Zealand U20s set-up, when Razor oversaw the age grade squad that fed into the senior All Blacks. Impressed from the first time of watching him play, Barrett grew as a leader in front of Robertson’s eyes, and progressed into the Crusaders second row ranks alongside former mentor Sam Whitelock.

““He is a deep thinker, he takes time to process.” Robertson said. “Especially off field but on field he is very clear, he understands the game intimately, he works very well with the game drivers and his efforts, you just want to see in any player as a leader, especially of your country, the numbers he pumps out and how deep he goes is pretty special.

Scott Barrett of New Zealand collects the ball at a line out during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade De France, Paris, France on 28 October 2023 (Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK)

“How do I support him and how does he make sure he changes me or asks questions of me as a coach for what is best for the team. Most people with roles, they grow, adapt and evolve with it and that is why he is All Black captain now.”

“He played under Sam (Whitelock) so he saw how he worked, so he has a little bit of Sam in him at times. He also had really good vice-captains with the Crusaders and also with his brothers (Jordie and Beauden Barrett) and Ardie (Savea), they are a great complement, they are very experienced, they are world class players and they know how he works so they can support him in the heat.

“We are an effort based team, he is an effort based captain. He would do what he expects of others.”

Robertson has implemented his own style upon this new All Blacks squad, with the head coach no stranger to starting from the ground up. After the Rugby World Cup Final defeat to South Africa, numerous All Black stalwarts called time on their Test match careers, with the likes of Whitelock and Dane Coles retiring oversees, and Richie Mo’unga’s contention still up in the air after agreeing a multi-year deal in Japan.

Robertson has previously enjoyed success at the helm of the Barbarians, with victory secured against a New Zealand XV despite the short turn-around to build the team. Robertson took many learnings from his time with the famous invitational side, and has implemented his 2022 tenure into getting a side together for the opening Summer Series Test against England.

“I just think giving that simple framework for the Barbarians to go and play. To give them a shape to play in front of them, what’s required. So get a few people in the right places and off you go and do it.” 

“It’s still the understanding of what framework is required for you to achieve. So how much is enough? Sometimes you can go not enough or too much. The enough part is real key and the essentials are required. So there’s an art to it.

“It is the game in front of us. That was who we were playing when I got the job so you accept it. Ten days is enough because that is what you have got, you have got 10 days.”