Known for his focus on the field, and for his charisma and respect off of it, Last Word on Rugby was unsure if the message to interview Sean Fitzpatrick was ill-timed. He was on holiday with family mind you. But wishing to gain an insight into understanding rugby from both hemispheres, Fitzpatrick has the perfect balance.
Living in London for the last 14 years, he is currently a rugby commentator for SkySports UK, as well with a Director of Front Row Leadership. Offering consultation, leadership and motivational advice to senior global management, Fitzpatrick balances those positions as Chairman of Laureus World Sport Academy. His intimate knowledge of the New Zealand rugby scene, plus an affection for rugby in the UK – he is a member on the Harlequins Rugby board – so with all this, Fitzpatrick offers a unique position to comment from.
“My rugby involvement is wide, I still do quite a bit of speaking. I cover Southern Hemisphere rugby for Sky, that sort of keeps me busy. So yeah there’s enough going on.”
Like many former players, their profile demands a lot of them. Yet it seems something he embraces. Positioned at hooker, Sean Fitzpatrick was at the heart of every team he played for: Sacred Heart College, Auckland University, New Zealand Colts/Universities, Auckland and the All Blacks. Always at the center of the action, and with a ‘verbal thrown in’ to get the oppositions attention.
But a well practiced, an intelligent and dedicated individual, leader and a person anyone would want on their team.
Sean Fitzpatrick “I’m Just a Big Fan of All Rugby”
— Laureus (@LaureusSport) January 1, 2018
Still loyal to the silver fern though, Fitzpatrick’s New Year resolution is similar to many–for the NZ Men’s and Women’s teams to be successful in the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
However, Sean Fitzpatrick’s view on how the game is played and administered, deserves attention. Asked how some new alterations to the tackle area has impacted on the sport, he believed the positives outweighed any negatives.
“I like the way that teams now have to really think about their defensive systems, because they’re put under more pressure. And I thought the All Blacks adapted pretty well. It took them a few games to get into it – because the Northern hemisphere teams had been playing under the new law variations.
“I think that was a good change. We want the best attacking teams, we don’t always want the best defensive team winning every World Cup. We want the best attacking team and the best defensive team to succeed.”
Fitzpatrick also see’s England as a potent threat to the All Blacks hold on the World Cup – see his interview with Fairfax Media here.
Northern Hemisphere Coverage of Super Rugby
Along with other SkySports’ presenters, Fitzpatrick heads the networks coverage of Super Rugby. So with this interview, LWOR asked what Sean thought of the upcoming season?
“I think nothing’s going to change, with New Zealand teams dominating. I think we saw that last year, but what I’d like to see–for a change– is the Blues doing a little bit better [Fitzpatrick’s former professional rugby team]. That should have been my New Years resolution.”
While his ideal outcome might take a seismic change in fortune, Sean still observes the leaders in Super Rugby repeating. “I like how the Hurricanes play, the Crusaders had a beauty year didn’t they.”
While most can see the Crusaders fancied to retain their crown, he like some here at LWOR know that South African teams will push hard for another title shot. And in heading the UK coverage of matches and weekly analysis, his overall wish is familiar.
“i’d just like to see more competitive games more often.”
He is not the only commentator to hope for that in 2018. With SANZAAR culling three teams, this reduced competition may result in some parity. “The reduction in teams is getting back to where it should be [from 18 to 15]. It just needs an adjustment here and there, and what people need to realize is that we’re not overly old. 25 years of Super Rugby, and there are bound to be problems. Competitions take years to get to where Football [EPL] is, for example.”
Rugby Recognizes it’s Leading Figures in New Years Honours List
Over the time Fitzpatrick was on holiday, the New Years honours list was released. In 1997, he himself had been awarded an OBE, so it was a poignant moment when his former coach and childhood hero Bryan Williams was made a Knight.
“I sent a note straight away to Sir ‘BeeGee’ and Lady Williams. And it is so deserved, for his work in sport. He is an absolute legend, one of my heroes growing up”. Fitzpatrick notes this in the documentary Beneath the Black. Produced by his SkySport colleague James Gemmel, Sean says that he would emulate the footwork of Bryan Williams as a training technique when growing.
— James Gemmell (@SkySportsJimmyG) October 3, 2017
As Williams was also involved with Fitzpatrick as a coach, the honour was doubly fitting. Williams and Maurice Trapp took over the coaching roles from John Hart [ONZM], to carry on the success of the Auckland Provincial rugby team. Alongside a large contingent of All Blacks, Fitzpatrick was a part of one of the most dominant teams prior to the sport going professional.
Beside Sir Bryan, other of his team mates to be honoured include Sir Michael Jones, Sir John Kirwan, Jonah Lomu [MNZM], and Zinzan Brooke [MNZM] to name a few. All recognized for their contributions to the game and to instilling the same ‘heroism’ into children, that Fitzpatrick held for Bryan Williams and other early All Blacks; like Dave Gallaher (see above image).
Laureus World Sports Academy Most Satisfying Role for Fitzpatrick
Over his career playing, Fitzpatrick was in winning sides. He was the second choice hooker, behind All Blacks captain Andy Dalton. But an injury lifted him to first-pick, and from there he was a part of the Rugby World Cup winning team.
Then in 2016, his role with Laureus allowed him to be present when the All Blacks won the supreme teams award. An austere day, and it is an organization which Sean Fitzpatrick now plays an integral part.
LWOR asked Sean, how fulfilling is his foundation work with Laureus is? “Yes it is actually, I’ve been with them for 17 years. Nelson Mandela gave us the calling that ‘Sport has the power to change the world’ and we whole heatedly believe that. We’ve got about 130 projects around the world.
Using sport globally, using sports as a mechanism to breakdown racial barriers.
“Were are in 35 countries, and there is not many countries/regions where we don’t impact. And thinking about New Zealand, I’ve got two projects going. One with Cathy Freeman, and yes I’d be very interested in working in New Zealand.” [He say’s he is having chats with several people now].
Full Credit to Fitzpatrick, and All Rugby Volunteers
His work is fulfilling, and the social change philanthropy involves many of the globes leading current, and former sports men and women. They give their time, knowledge, skills and access, to the betterment of others. And for that, Sean Fitzpatrick can be very, very proud of.
Now, with the NatWest Six Nations just around the corner, Fitzpatrick will be a neutral observer. As a rugby pundit, he can judge externally, who the home nations team might progress–with England being the team he has said that ‘the All Blacks must fear most’.
In closing the interview, Last Word on Rugby thanked Sean for his time. Time with family is valuable, and for that, I thanked him personally. “Maybe I’ll see you at the New World shops in Stanmore Bay Scott”, was the comment that Sean ended with. In reference to that relaxed local feeling on the Hibiscus Coast. He could be a dad on a Saturday morning, you might see him at the School play or Hot Rod Show.
But even as an former-All Black captain, MBE and respected member of the rugby community, deep down he just a big fan of all rugby. A New Zealander; humble, honest and little changed, but with a worldly view on the game and it’s governance.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images