7 Aug

ANZC – Bring it On!
by Tracey Nelson
7 Aug 2009

Thank goodness for the Air New Zealand Cup competition. At a time when we are all feeling rather jaded after a few poor All Black performances and a less than satisfactory Super 14, it’s been refreshing to get back to basics with New Zealand provincial rugby.

Despite the looming cull of four teams from the Premier Division at the end of this season, the crowds have been good and the rugby has been of a far more entertaining and error-free standard than is usual for the start of our domestic competition. Interestingly enough, the television audiences for the opening round have been better than those for most of the S14 games – although if you bothered to watch any of the games (with the possible exception of the Southland v Waikato match) you could see why. None of the same-old same- old in this competition, instead we have many different styles of rugby on offer and what a breath of fresh air that has been.

From the Run It At All Times style of Counties-Manukau through to the good old fashioned forward play of the likes of Southland and Otago, there is something for everyone – and better yet, we get to see contrasting styles of rugby instead of the kick-fest that was Super 14 2009. Add to that the lack of TMOs for this competition, and suddenly we are seeing Assistant Referees actually moving to get into good position to make their rulings and giving the referee something other than a feeble shrug of the shoulders and a referral to the replay upstairs.

Of great interest in the first round was three of the five Super franchise bases losing their opening matches, with Canterbury going down by three points to Harbour, Waikato dipping out to Southland in Invercargill, and most tellingly Hawkes Bay giving Auckland a spanking in their first win over the Queen City boys since 1974. Hawkes Bay not only out-passioned Auckland, but comprehensively outplayed them in the contact area stealing ball at the breakdown almost at will at times, and showing far more organisation and accuracy on the counterattack.

Not only is contesting in the lineout evident in our domestic competition, but to everyone’s delight the rolling maul is still alive and well in New Zealand. Perhaps it’s time the All Black coaches got themselves back to grass roots because there are plenty of sides in this country that employ the rolling maul – they just don’t happen to be Super 14 sides.

I suppose it’s the David v Goliath factor that most endears our provincial competition to us, that and the tribalism – something you tend to forget about until it comes to this time of the year. But when you see supporters decked out in their team colours, especially the likes of the Bucket Heads from Manawatu, it fair strikes a chord deep down and you can’t help but cheer along with them. It probably helps that the rugby we are seeing is actually recognisable as rugby too, the way we used to know and love the game. So far it’s been great viewing, and judging by the crowds we’re seeing in the provincial centres the nation are sending the NZRU a big message. Long may our provincial competition rule supreme!

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