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Selection shock: Ardern kicked into touch

Steve Deane listens in as the PM, fresh from cursing the All Blacks to a shock defeat, gets the chop from Steve Hansen

On Sunday morning, Jacinda Ardern received the phone call she had been dreading – but fully expecting – from an overweight man with odd hair.

When the call was patched through (by Clarke handing her her mobile), the speaker opened with: “Jacinda, I’ve got some bad news."

“Just spit it out, Shag,” she replied.

He told her she’d been dropped from the Northern Hemisphere tour.

He was nice enough about it, sympathetic but also direct.

The nation believed she had been directly responsible for Saturday night’s defeat, he said.

“But why aren’t they blaming Ryan Crotty?” Jacinda asked.

“Because the nation doesn’t know anything about footy,” he answered. “It’s full of haters and people who don’t understand that if your scrum isn’t solid and your forwards aren’t getting over the advantage line then there’s no way a completely unrelated figurehead from an entirely different walk of life can have the sort of impact they’ve come to expect.”

“You’re talking about John aren't you?", she asked.

“Well, obviously,” he said. “It’s bloody hard to replace a genuine great and Bill was never an adequate replacement. A bit like Sam Cane.”

“That’s not fair on Sam. Bill is more of a Matt Todd,” she said.

“You’re probably right,” he admitted.

“Look, in the All Blacks we value honesty, integrity and the ability to produce a bulletproof After David"

- Steve Hansen 

But the main issue, he insisted, was that she clearly had plenty of work-ons in her own game. She’d benefit from a summer at home, out of the pressure cooker situation of games against the Barbarians, Wales and Scotland.

He gave her a list of areas in which she needed to improve:

- Loitering outside changing rooms for pictures with the skipper after an important victory

- Fatuous bets with Australian prime ministers involving dressing up in each other’s clothes

- Awkward three-way handshakes (a tough skill to master but crucial at the highest level)

The John Key 3-way failure of a handshake

It wasn’t about her gender, he insisted.

Yes, Aaron Smith had expressed doubts about his ability to form an effective playmaking partnership with someone whom he been told not to be alone with in an airport, but that hadn’t come into the selection discussion.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Look, in the All Blacks we value honesty, integrity and the ability to produce a bulletproof After David,” he said.

“Go on,” she said.

“Well, I’m just going to give it you straight then,” he said. “In this day and age being a woman doesn’t have to be a drawback. Or permanent.”

“Are you suggesting?”

“Yes – perhaps you should consider a positional switch.”

“You want me to play fullback?” she asked.

“Er, no,” he said. “We’ve already got a pretty fullback. Just forget about it. Look, you’re going to be extremely busy just keeping the price of lattes down and working on that handshake technique. The door is never shut.”

“Tell that to Keith Murdoch,” she said.

He hung up.

The phone rang again.

Clarke answered. It was Donald Trump.

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