Beneath the Black: A Journey Through New Zealand Rugby
Last Updated: 01/06/17 7:32am
This summer, the British and Irish Lions take on the toughest challenge in world rugby - a tour of New Zealand and a Test series against the All Blacks.
The All Blacks' record against the rest of the world is staggering; they've won the most World Cups, they are the only team to successfully defend a World Cup crown, and they have been ranked the best team in the world since 2009.
They have won over 60% of their games against the Springboks, which serves as their worst winning percentage against any other country. France are the only northern hemisphere nation against whom the All Blacks have a winning percentage below 80.
How did a small country of less than five million people create such a gap between them and the rest of the world?
Beneath the Black is the brainchild of James Gemmell, who spent several weeks in New Zealand interviewing legendary All Blacks including Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Sean Fitzpatrick to learn what rugby means to the country.
Though the presenter is quick to point out that the focal point of the documentary is not just the national side, but the country as a whole.
"The story I wanted to tell is just as much about what happens off the field," said Gemmell. "Who we are as a country, our culture, and what it means to be New Zealanders.
"It's inextricably linked with the game of rugby because of what the All Blacks have done for us, but it's a story of a country as much as it is a story of a sporting team."
The New Zealand franchises continue to dominate in this year's Super Rugby. Of the five sides in the competition, only the Blues and the Chiefs have lost to non-Kiwi opposition - each of their losses came against the Stormers - while no New Zealand franchise has lost to an Australian side this year.
Gemmell says watching Super Rugby gives a window into the rugby frenzy in New Zealand, but says the documentary delves deeper into the community to see where the love for the game originates.
"When you see the games on television you see the rugby-mad crowds and their obsession, as well as the passion of the players.
"But we wanted to also get the views of the average person. We spoke to some grandparents in a rest home, and we we went to a kindergarten for the day in Queenstown - we wanted to get a sense of rugby's place in everyone's lives, not just the professionals.
"What we found was that, even if they weren't obsessed with the game themselves, every man, woman and child has some relationship with the game in New Zealand.
"Whether it's vicariously through another half who loves it, or your memories of playing it - everyone has some connection with the game. It's a part of our DNA."
Gemmell's colleague in the Super Rugby studio is former All Black captain Fitzpatrick, who says he learned a lot from taking part in the documentary.
The 92-Test international visited the grave of David Gallagher, the man who captained the All Blacks on their first ever tour in 1905-06.
"For me the key was finding out where New Zealand rugby came from," said Fitzpatrick. "It was pretty emotional visiting the grave of Dave Gallagher.
"That's where it all started; he was the original captain. I'm not sure why I've never visited the grave before - it makes you feel very proud to see your heritage there for everyone to see."
Fitzpatrick said the documentary resonated with him not just as a former All Black, but as someone who spent most of his life in New Zealand.
"That's the thing for me, I can relate to all of it, including the kids running around those fields in bare feet throwing a rugby ball around.
"Everywhere we went we had a rugby ball under our arm, and whenever you played you were trying to emulate the All Blacks.
"My mates still play touch rugby on a Monday night, it's in the blood."
Fitzpatrick heads to New Zealand in June for Sky Sports' coverage of the Lions tour.
"I'm so excited to head down there, and if you watch the documentary you will see why.
"For anyone who hasn't been there before, it's a real insight into the thinking behind the All Blacks, and the responsibility they have in upholding the country's rugby traditions."
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A New Zealander himself, Gemmell said he didn't appreciate the full extent of the country's obsession until he left the shores.
"It's actually taken me leaving New Zealand and looking at it from the outside to spot some of the storylines that I've seen. When you're in it, you don't even think about it - it's being away from it all that shows you.
"I'm grateful for the support of the rugby department in getting this out, and the support of my Kiwi colleague Tim Dale who made the programme with me. It was a collective effort and we are proud of the result.
"Hopefully it resonates with a British and Irish audience, and also with a non-sporting audience, because it really is a story about more than rugby."
Watch Beneath the Black on Sky Sports 2 from 6.30pm on Thursday, or catch up On Demand