19 Feb

ANZC 2009 draw unveiled
by Tracey Nelson
19 Feb 2009

The draw for the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup was released today, with highlights being a Round One defence of the Ranfurly Shield by Wellington, plenty of afternoon local derbys and games on August 22, September 12 and 19 brought forward so as not to clash with All Black test matches.

The competition itself kicks off on Thursday evening of July 30 and will procede over the next 15 weeks. It is a full round robin format with all teams playing each other.This year there are no quarter-finals, so the semis will occur immediately after the finish of the round robin format and play out at Labour Weekend (Oct 31/Nov 1) with the finals taking place on November 7th.

Wellington, who are the current holders of the Ranfurly Shield, will face a first up challenge from Otago. If they successfully defend the shield against them, they go on to face challenges from Canterbury (Round 4) and Auckland (Round 5). Should they survive those, there will be a repeat of last year’s thriller when Southland get a challenge in Round 9.

However, fans hoping to see the All Blacks in action during this year’s ANZC will be sorely disappointed. While last year’s competition, spanning 13 weeks, saw the top All Blacks enter into the action around the final three weeks of play, this year we are unlikely to see any of them pull on their provincial jumpers. The ANZC will now take 16 weeks to complete – three longer than last year – and with overlaps with TriNations tests in August and September, and the end of year tour commencing in early November, the window for the top players to rest will coincide fairly and squarely with the ANZC.

And it gets worse. Given that the All Black selectors will undoubtedly be looking at a touring squad numbering around 30 or more, there is every likelihood that key players for the top finishing provincial teams will be pulled from the ANZC when named in the All Black squad that will gather for training before they head for the UK. Quite how that will impact on teams’ fortunes heading into the semi-finals and final remains an unknown yet grim reality.

There will also be frustrations amongst the top provinces who boast the bulk of the All Blacks. These players place a heavy financial load on the unions’ books, and it’s a fair argument that if you are paying for a player you should at least be getting his services on the field. This is yet another problem for the NZRU to juggle, as will be any futher loss of fans coming to watch the games. Partially filled stadiums and fans voting with their feet because they perceive they are watching an inferior product will impact the NZRU severely in the current financial times we are facing.

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