Following the All Blacks’ tense victory over the Springboks early on Sunday morning, the New Zealand prime minister did what he does, and, let’s be honest, what many of us would do were we the New Zealand prime minister: he sauntered into the team’s dressing room and chewed on a beer with The Boys.
Photographer Phil Walter was there, too, and through the magic of lens selection and mother nature, snapped a remarkable picture of the prime minister shaking the hand of Sam Whitelock, a white lock in the All Blacks.
In the image, John Key is Sophie to Whitelock’s Big Friendly Giant, Fay Wray to his King Kong.
The PM is, of course, an eager participant in New Zealand rugby imagery. In his book Dirty Politics, Nicky Hager pointed to a “black ops” unit on the ninth floor of the Beehive; the most innocuous explanation might be that it is simply shorthand for All Blacks Photo-Ops.
There was the bells-and-whistles squad launch at parliament, with politicians of all stripes striving to get in the frame with the national rugby side. Before that was the controversial, photoshopped front page of Rugby News.
The most tender, poignant even, strain of image within the Key-All-Blacks oeuvre, however, simply depicts the prime minister looking at the All Black captain. Indeed, the startled look on McCaw’s face in that Whitelock pic could be simply because he’s not accustomed to the prime minister looking at someone else.
For example, pictured in Sydney, August 2009, after winning the Bledisloe Cup, here is the new prime minister gazing adoringly at Richie McCaw:
And from the following month, within Wellington’s Westpac Stadium at the end of the Tri-Nations 2009, here is the prime minister gazing adoringly at Richie McCaw:
Later in 2009, the All Blacks stopped in Japan on their way to Europe. Here, in Tokyo, the prime minister gazes adoringly at Richie McCaw:
After the nail-biting World Cup Final in 2011, the prime minister gazed adoringly at Richie McCaw.
On that occasion, as many, however, the prime minister was gazing adoringly at Richie McCaw on behalf of the nation, apart from those who can’t abide rugby and/or adoring gazes.
He even wore the adoring gaze in the pioneering three-way handshake:
And the respect is not confined to sporting stadiums. Here, in 2012, for example, the prime minister gazes adoringly at Richie McCaw:
Come to think of it, this could be the secret. The All Blacks have never not won the Rugby World Cup since Prime Minister John Key started gazing adoringly at Richie McCaw. Gaze on, Prime Minister, Gaze On!