Rugby

Farewell to the master of the verbal headbutt

Canon Rugby in Focus: Jim Kayes pays tribute to Steve Tew, who earned respect without universal admiration during 12 successful years at the helm of New Zealand Rugby.

There is nothing complicated about the straight shooting Steve Tew yet, for 12 years, he has successfully juggled the incredibly complex role of being New Zealand Rugby CEO.

In a job whose reach extends from grassroots rugby to the elite, professional game and its many and often competing demands, it is almost impossible to please everyone, all the time.

Yet, love him or loathe him, and there are plenty in either camp, Tew will leave massive boots to fill when he departs at the end of the year.

In his time New Zealand Rugby has doubled is revenue, held onto the majority of its players, hosted a wonderful World Cup and set the standard on the field.

New Zealand hold the men’s and women’s World Cups in 15s and sevens and the Crusaders are defending Super Rugby champions.

New Zealand will host the women’s World Cup in two years and the game is enjoying an explosion of support in women’s rugby.

There are issues, for sure, and some have been neglected or left too long to be fixed under Tew’s reign. Some may be simply impossible to fix.

In this latter category falls the decline in numbers who are playing the game and going to watch it.

There are simply too many sports to participate in these days and Sky TV do such a good job that the temptation to stay home and watch from the warm of our couches is proving tough for many to resist.

Yet, despite rugby’s challenges, most would agree Tew’s time at the top has been good for rugby in New Zealand, and for New Zealand Rugby.

He’s certainly been a challenge to deal with as he is the master at the verbal headbutt and is a stunningly quick thinker with a gold medal in quips and put downs.

It pisses off some people and is why he will never be universally liked in the way his former chairman, the late Jock Hobbs, was.

But that won’t bother Tew.

And when you get to know him, he is superb company. He loves a beer and a joke, and takes a genuine interest in others - and I’ve always found his blunt honesty refreshing, if at times confronting.

His detractors call him Teflon Tew in the belief that he has avoided any blame or responsibility when things have gone wrong in the game in New Zealand.

It is as if he should have anticipated the Chiefs stripper scandal or Losi Filipo’s assault in a Wellington street.

He seems, too, to carry the blame for flaws in New Zealand society that are reflected in rugby and that countless governments have failed to fix.

My main criticism, and we have argued this in person often, is that New Zealand Rugby are too quiet on the international scene.

For a country as good as we are on the field and off it (our central contracting system is the envy of many) I’ve always felt New Zealand should be bolshier, publicly, on the issues the game confronts.

Tew, for all his swagger and shoot-from-the-lip style, has steadfastly chosen to fire most of his shots in private, around the board room table.

Perhaps it is the journo in me that is irritated by this.

As much as he has had an incredible impact on New Zealand rugby and will be hard to replace, Tew, perhaps better than most, knows how quickly he will be forgotten.

He has seen too many great players come and go to believe otherwise.

So who might be in contention to succeed him?

The world could truly be New Zealand Rugby’s oyster as this job is sought after and, as we have seen with Tew, rarely available.

Much will depend on what sort of CEO is desired. Chris Moller was a commercial boss who had Tew alongside him providing the rugby nous.

Tew walked in both worlds but finding another person with a background in sport, business and sports management could be tricky.

Jason Paris, the Vodafone CEO played on the wing for Southland but has already ruled himself out. Mark Robinson, the former All Blacks centre, is on the NZR board and has been the head of Taranaki rugby.

Former Spark boss Simon Moutter is available and some business sources think TVNZ’s Kevin Kendrick might be interested.

There will be others, off the rugby radar, as Moller was, who will have a crack.

If a woman is desired then Raelene Castle may want to swap Australian Rugby and its interminable dramas for windy Wellington.

But will the Folau fallout undermine her credentials?

Tew’s deputy, Nicki Nicol could apply if the board wants continuity and a woman with a background in business.

One of our newest Dames, Therese Walsh, would be superb in the role given she was once NZR’s head of finance, the chief operating officer for the 2011 rugby World Cup and head of the organising body for the 2015 cricket World Cup.

But her life seems to be in governance now.

One who might want to return to rugby is former test cricketer David White, who is New Zealand Cricket CEO, and did a superb job turning around the Hurricanes and Blues franchises.

Whoever it is, they will walk into an organisation that should be humming along nicely with a new All Blacks coach appointed, the season structure and competition sorted, a new broadcasting deal in place and a steady, well equipped board of directors.

The new person will need to speed up rugby’s inclusion of women in governance and decision making, and find new revenue streams to match the increasing cost of the professional game.

And they will have to deal, for a little while perhaps, with a rather large shadow left as Tew walks away from 25 years rugby in rugby administration.

He wants to leave having seen the All Blacks win a third consecutive World Cup on his watch.

Yep, his will be big shoes to fill, for sure.

The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.

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