Sport Union How the All Blacks started a trend sweeping the sporting world

How the All Blacks started a trend sweeping the sporting world

The All Blacks haven't been their usual selves lately, injecting uncertainty into their efforts to retain rugby's crown. Photo: Getty
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On Friday night, Richmond celebrated one of its greatest wins in recent history.

Without a finals win since 2001, the Tigers lit up the MCG with a performance as memorable as it was impressive.

After the 95,000 fans had left the ground and many of those who had watched on television had gone to bed, Richmond captain Trent Cotchin was still in the rooms.

But he wasn’t doing a warm down, celebrating with teammates or talking with his family. He was cleaning the rooms.

Yes, that’s right. The victorious captain, still on a high from a career-defining match and having complied with numerous media requests that had already delayed his departure, picked up discarded cups, bottles, and bits of strapping tape and put them in the bin – all while his wife patiently waited at the door.

To ‘sweep the sheds’ is something more and more teams have adopted over recent years, including the Australian Kangaroos rugby league team under Mal Meninga and the England cricket team, under the guidance of director of cricket and former captain Andrew Strauss.

The manager of the England soccer team, Gareth Southgate, is now looking to his multi-millionaire charges to follow suit.

So where did ‘sweep the sheds’ originate?

“An English reporter caught a couple of All Blacks sweeping out their own changeroom after a Test match at Twickenham in London,” former All Black Andrew Mehrtens told The New Daily.

“He was firstly surprised by this, but when he realised who the two were he was even more surprised, because it was probably the two most senior guys and the biggest stars: Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

“McCaw was a captain who led by example.

“He would never expect anybody else to do the hard work before he put his hand up on the field, and that extends to off the field.”

The seeds were sown after the All Blacks lost to France in a quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup.

Richie McCaw and then-coach Graham Henry after the All Blacks’ 2007 World Cup exit.

In a remarkably honest self-assessment, McCaw recognised that arrogance had played a part in their downfall and that he and the coaching staff had failed in their leadership.

“It gained prominence with a book called Legacy, which was written by a guy called James Kerr, who lived with the All Blacks [in 2010] trying to analyse what their culture was about,” Mehrtens, now a rugby commentator with Fox Sports, explained.

“The concept’s pretty simple,” he says.

“It’s largely about taking responsibility for your own actions and not having any sense of entitlement.

“While the All Blacks have taken that sort of thing to a new and more professional level, you see very similar things throughout a lot of teams.

“It all ties in with things like the [Sydney] Swans and their ‘no d–kheads’ policy.”

Mehrtens believes culture plays a big part in sporting success.

“In rugby, we like to think of it as very much a team sport, whereby your actions directly impact on your teammates’ actions, how well they can play their game,” he said.

The former star fly-half, who was capped 70 times for the national team between 1995 and 2004, says the All Blacks understand that they’re role models. And take that very seriously.

“The overriding attitude is always trying to be better and never thinking that they’re there,” he says.

“Guys who get on well together and work hard for one another will do well, no matter what the grade.”

No one who watched Richmond in action on Friday night would doubt that the club is getting a lot of things right these days – sweeping the sheds included.

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