category: rugby news

The malaise runs deep in NZ rugby

Lindsay Knight17/10/07

Whether the New Zealand Rugby Union needs to have an independent inquiry into the World Cup failure might be arguable. Most people know already where things went wrong and, indeed, there are a significant number who have not been simply wise after the event.

They saw months ago the dangers of the rotation policy, which did have merit but only if it was ended at the right time, and more especially taking players out of the Super 14 and other competitive rugby. Consequently, this All Black side suffered from being under-done and lacking match hardness.

The only course now is for those responsible to do the honourable thing and either resign or for the NZRU board to take a fresh direction by appointing a new coaching team headed by the obvious replacement, Robbie Deans.

But if the board is committed to an inquiry then perhaps it should be extended to include all other aspects of New Zealand rugby which in 2007 were sacrificed to the national obsession of winning the World Cup.

The Super 14 was adversely affected and so was the Air New Zealand Cup. Just how much impact was made on public interest in grass-roots levels was illustrated by the attendances at last weekend's semifinals in Christchurch and Auckland.

Only 9500 people were at Eden Park for the Auckland-Hawke's Bay match, and that was a generous estimate. Granted, the weather was poor, but it was still an unfair reward for an Auckland side, which under Pat Lam's coaching has played excellent rugby this year.

For the Canterbury-Wellington game the estimate was 7500. Considering two grand unions were involved that, too, would have been unthinkable a few years ago and, unlike the deluge at Eden Park, this game was played in ideal conditions.

One of the ways by which the NZRU board and staff might prepare for the 2011 tournament is to take some of their focus off the top end of the game and look at means of restoring the levels below. That includes making club competitions more meaningful.

It is like belching against thunder, of course. But something those in high places might do is to put the game's interests ahead of television's. That means, above all, a more sensible programme and a season which doesn't stretch from early February into November. It also means more day-time kickoffs.

It might be a good idea, too, if for all contracted players and NZRU board members it was made mandatory to watch the weekly Heartland programmes on television. The rugby might be moderate but the programme is an excellent reminder of the game's old values.

Obviously rugby's ever confusing maze of laws is another issue needing to be addressed. The game over the last few years has become an ugly spectacle and as a visual entertainment is lagging behind league again, even allowing for the Kiwis' abject capitulation last weekend.

But expecting rugby to eliminate some of its problems, especially in the tackle ball area and scrums, might also be another futile exercise. Any attempts to introduce radical law changes along the lines proposed by the Stellenbosch group will undoubtedly be stymied by northern hemisphere interests. England's unexpected success at this year's World Cup has been all the ammunition conservatives have been seeking.

England's success means 10-man rugby will be celebrated. And if it means winning the World Cup two tournaments in a row then not even those of us who think rugby should have an added dimension, and in the professional era an obligation to entertain, can challenge.

While the World Cup has become an obsession to the detriment of New Zealand rugby it is by no means the first in our history. Once beating South Africa in a series was the driving motivation. Even when a series win was achieved in 1956 that was replaced by the need to win one in South Africa, something which wasn't achieved until 1986.

A UK Grand Slam was another bogey, which for many reasons avoided even great touring sides such as those of 1905, 1924, 1963 and 1967, until Graham Mourie's team of 1978 removed that monkey.

If the World Cup is now the jinx New Zealand rugby has to break then perhaps the national union is not the only one who have helped create a monster. It does seem ironic for many in the country's media to comment adversely on what is now perceived as "an obsession".

Some of the media coverage of the tournament, it has to be said, was excessive. It might be a good idea if in future coverage and comment were left to the sports pages and rugby specialists. In some publications the mass of opinion, some of it from those with questionable qualifications, became confusing.

One last word on refereeing, which is in danger of becoming another New Zealand obsession. It is a disturbing trend to hear the International Board's Paddy O'Brien describing the unfortunate Wayne Barnes as "a rising star". New Zealand's Keith Lawrence has used similar language in the past for Paul Honiss.

This mindset which sees referees as "stars" is wrong. The game simply is not about them.

LINDSAY KNIGHT | RugbyHeaven | Wednesday, 17 october 2007 | Comment on this article

Lindsay Knight

The malaise runs deep in NZ rugby 17/10/07
Portugal puffery glosses over 18/9/07
Pumas power as Japan perplex 11/9/07
Rugby's chance for rightful place 28/8/07
Commercial Threat to Rugby 21/8/07
Too much depends on ref 6/7/07

This site can be viewed at almost any resolution
Please report any problems to the Webmaster
CoZania August 2007