If All Blacks are indeed role models, then Match Fit on Three is one of the most important things they’ve done for men of an age, men with weight issues, joint issues, heart issues, mental issues even.
There was plenty of gasping when Match Fit screened on Tuesday at 7.30pm, not just from a group of 40 something and 50 something All Blacks, but no doubt from those watching their TVs who remembered them in their elegant, speedy, powerful pomp.
In this “what do they look like now?” reality show, a group including Eroni Clarke (now known as ‘Father of Caleb Clarke’) Frank Bunce, Kees Meeuws, Troy Flavell, Pita Alatini, Piri Weepu, Craig Dowd and Eric Rush prepare for a comeback match, with Sir Graham Henry and Buck Shelford as mentors.
You fear for them, as they hobble in. Alatini, Rush and Bunce look like sleek grey versions of the sleek dark haired models viewers recall from days gone by. Rush has a steel hip and a knee replacement, yet still looks deadly swift at 55.
“I’m fit enough for what I do, and I don’t do anything,” Bunce, 58, quips upon arrival.
“I’m just a walking corpse, really,” Ron Cribb tells the reunion, citing spinal injuries that ended his career.
Tests of body fat and muscle composition provide not such good news for some. Clarke, who is 51, is found to have the body of a 66-year-old. Intensely religious, he gave up rugby early to raise a family.
Powerhouse prop Meeuws is now a 145kg family man, carrying a body that is metabolically 15 years older than he is. Weepu doesn’t fare much better, he’s a 37-year-old sporting genius trapped in the body of a 51-year-old.
Both struggle (read really struggle) in the Bronco fitness test, won in 6 minutes 14 seconds by Alatini.
“I’m not shy of accepting I’ve let my self go a bit,” 2011 Rugby World Cup hero Weepu admits.
All Black Beauden Barrett holds the New Zealand Bronco record at 4min 12 sec – that’s more than twice as fast as some of the Match Fit lads. When they play touch football they are competitive, skilled ... and exhausted.
The game recalls the lyrics “and you know that you're over the hill, when your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill,” from Old Folks Boogie, by US band Little Feat.
Many balls are dropped, or popped up to a player who no longer has the pace to get there.
An injury round up as the old boys assemble takes what seems like a decade or two. Broken this and thats. Damaged here and theres. Big bellies, albeit with lots of muscle remaining.
And then come many reasons as to why added weight around the “puku” is bad for your health. So many reasons, with too many medical terms to list here.
When Shelford notes Polynesians and Maori live on average 10 years fewer than pākehā, a sombre silence is broken by Henry muttering “sorry”.
If you’re still feeling All Blacks lead charmed and pampered lives for all eternity by that point, then Henry pricks that particular balloon by raising mental health, which the players promptly blame on “you guys” (selectors and coaches).
It’s funny. But not really; when Meeuws looks back at the trauma of his mother dying when he was 10, then his father when he was 20, then of being dropped, he talks of going to a “dark place”.
“I was fit, I was strong. Give me the ball in my hands and I’d go through a brick wall for you,” he said.
But rejection hurt, and the black jersey did not stem that pain.
“Just because we’re All Blacks and stuff ... we’re human too. There have been times, I’ve had self doubt.”