All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks premieres on Amazon Prime June 1, with six episodes showing the best rugby team in the world throughout its 2017 exploits. Amazon’s All or Nothing brand has covered NFL and college football teams, and is expanding to English soccer as well. All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines premiered April 6. All or Nothing: Manchester City debuts later this year.
Kiwi actor and director Taika Waititi, who directed Thor: Ragnarok, narrates the rugby series. It depicts three matches with the British & Irish Lions, an elite team comprised of the best players in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The British & Irish Lions tour a rugby-playing southern hemisphere nation every four years, including South Africa in 2009 and Australia in 2013, then New Zealand in 2017.
“It’s always a pretty big deal in New Zealand and overseas,” said Ben Smith, who plays fullback and wing for New Zealand.
It’s a very big deal in New Zealand and in the U.K. and Ireland, and in other nations that follow rugby. The 2017 tour included three “test” matches pitting New Zealand against the British & Irish Lions, and a bunch of matches against clubs and regional teams for the tourists. The three-match series was unbelievably close: In late June, New Zealand won the first game in late June, 30-15. The British & Irish Lions won the next one 24-21, and the teams tied 15-15 in the third test.
“By the end of the game, it probably could’ve gone either way,” said Smith.
New Zealand’s All Blacks, who dress all in black, won the World Cup in 2011 and in 2015. All or Nothing offers a glimpse at what makes the team, drawn from a nation of just 4.7 million people, so darn good. The New York Times said of the series, “It’s a welcome change of pace” from All or Nothing’s typical football focus, “even if you don’t know much about rugby beyond its reputation for brutality and the fact that the All Blacks perform a Maori war dance known as a haka before their matches.”
Smith mentions a “really good environment” within the All Blacks as a key to their success, where veteran players are happy to take the younger ones under their wings. “There are always guys willing to pass along their knowledge,” he said.
New Zealand has had a couple matches in the U.S. in recent years, including a thorough beating of the U.S. team in late 2014, then a match against Ireland in Chicago, in front of 62,000 spectators, in the fall of 2016. The latter happened days after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and Ben Smith said the rugby tourists enjoyed being in town for the Cubs’ first World Series victory since 1908.
He said the New Zealanders also enjoy American football, including HBO’s NFL series Hard Knocks.
“We don’t know all the ins and outs,” he said, “but we’re big on American sports.”
The New Zealand players were happy to open up to the crew shooting them for the Amazon series, Smith said. He’s hopeful the U.S. audience gets a kick out of the latest edition of All or Nothing. Even if they’re not that familiar with rugby, he added, hopefully “they’ll be interested to see how the team operates, and how the game works.”