Something, it appears, we all have to get
used to with the commercialisation of top
rugby is that many of the game's
institutions and icons will come under
increasing threat, even those like the
Ranfurly Shield and some of the country's
most celebrated stadia.
As sponsorship deals change, so too do the
names of some grand old grounds.
Wellington's Athletic Park is no more,
though no one probably mourns that too much.
Others like Christchuch's Lancaster Park and
Whangarei's Okara Park have had a variety of
names, to a point where the media and the
average punter can only be confused.
In an upcoming
refurbishment of Napier's McLean Park it is
understood the old McKenzie stand will
disappear, thus loosening a link to one of
Hawke's Bay rugby's biggest legends, Norman
McKenzie, the man primarily responsible for
the province's glorious shield era of the
20s. How much longer, with the 2011 World
Cup ahead and huge costs involved, will Eden
Park retain its name?
So, given the alacrity with which rugby's
bean counters will trade the game's soul, no
one should assume that the format of our
national provincial championship, now the
Air New Zealand Cup, will last forever.
For judging by some of the modest
attendances at many of this year's ANZC
matches, notably Dunedin, New Plymouth and
for Counties-Manukau at Mt Smart, the costs
of sustaining even a semi professional
competition must be straining the already
stretched finances of the NZRU.
It can be only wondered, yet again, whether
the right format has been found. Inevitably,
with the ANZC being expanded to 14 teams,
some of the rugby has been mediocre, though
there has been some foul, freakish weather.
The Northland-Tasman match, indeed, was
reminiscent of the celebrated 1975 "water
But anomalies still exist in the format even
if there has been an improvement on some of
last year's unsatisfactory aspects.
Having just 10 qualifying matches before the
playoffs means there is every likelihood
some unions who have had traditional
rivalries won't meet this year. One of these
casualties may be Auckland-North Harbour's
annual Battle of the Bridge.
In time will we see the scenario some in
high places may prefer? That would involve
encouraging a further rationalisation of
smaller unions, along the lines of Tasman,
so that there could be a two-tiered
provincial competition, with nine sides in
each division but with a strict automatic
promotion-relegation being applied.
After four rounds in this year's ANZC it
would be stretching things to say that the
new 14-team competition has narrowed the
gaps between the country's elite unions and
the rest. Even without many All Blacks,
Auckland and Canterbury, have again looked a
class above. Others who might be expected to
claim playoff spots, Otago, Taranaki and
North Harbour, in particular, have been
But there have been positives. One has been
Manawatu finally gaining its first win in
top provincial competition since its
relegation to the old NPC second division in
1988. Another has been the mighty feat of
Hawke's Bay in winning away against
Southland and upsetting Wellington and North
Harbour to have three wins after the first
four rounds and be third on the table after
Auckland and Canterbury.
So far the Magpies are providing the
strongest argument in favour of the
restructured competition, particularly as
the Bay was a union which suffered from what
was in place through the 1990s and up until
And as it does every season, the provincial
competition is throwing up plenty of fresh
talent, nobody shining more brightly than
the 21-year old Canterbury first five
eighths Stephen Brett, who after the heights
he reached last weekend against Wellington
is being spoken of in the same hushed tones
Daniel Carter evoked three or four years.
It is extraordinary the class first fives
who seem to abound in Canterbury, going back
to Bruce Watt in the 1960s, followed by
Wayne Cottrell, Doug Bruce, Wayne Smith,
Stephen Bachop, Andrew Mehrtens, Carter and
Can Carter and Brett both be accommodated in
Canterbury and the Crusaders next year?
Probably with ease, with one or the other
conceivably going to second five where Aaron
Mauger's exit leaves a hole. And it's not as
if All Blacks are seen much in provincial
sides in the modern era. Incredibly, in six
seasons Carter has played only 21 provincial
The other icon to be tested this weekend is
the shield, which has not caused the "fever"
many may have hoped for on Auckland's North
Shore. But perhaps that will come in trying
to resist a tough challenger, with a strong
shield heritage, in Waikato.
Who knows? A heroic, successful Harbour
defence might lead onto a significant and a
creation of the sort of legends, which Buck
Shelford apart, the Harbour union
LINDSAY KNIGHT |
RugbyHeaven | Tuesday, 21 August 2007 |
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