19 Mar

Don't look back in anger / Move on up
by Rob Wallace
19 Mar 2002

There’s something fishy about the whole NZRFU saga over the last 3 months, but the bit that concerns me is the S12 expansion, which seems to be at the core of this very messy fallout.

I still don’t understand the logic of vetoing the procedure at the last minute, especially after agreeing to go ahead with a thorough independent report about expanding the S12. If the NZRFU were so opposed to expanding the S12 the report should never have happened. To commission the report, and then ignore strikes me as foolish.

It’s this sort of arrogance of the NZRFU that gets us into the deep water we’re in now.

The reason the S12 was a success was the fact that it was an expanded, televised, hyped version of an existing concept – the S10 or previously SPC. News Corp liked the idea and funded it to the tune of $500 million over 10 years. Now what do Sanzar have to offer at the next negotiation – more of the same [something we're getting bored with] or something new?

The S12, while not moribund, is looking unhealthy, and in need of a revamp. This is due for 2005 when the contracts are renegotiated but we may well be served better by embarking on this earlier. I understand, and agree with, the fact that the rugby season is too long and that lengthening the S12 would worsen this further but that’s no reason not to look at alternatives.

There are so many options. Let’s give the Aussies another team. Hell, let’s give them 2 or 3. Expand the S12 to 16 or 18, but play it in pools, with an expanded playoff system like they use in the NRL [NRL playoffs have huge viewing figures]. Now let’s see, what does that do to our season? 7-8 weeks round robin, maybe 4-5 of playoffs – oh, look it’s shorter that the S12! More teams for Aus gives them the opportunity to start up a NPC type competition as well while the Currie Cup and NPC run. Other options include dropping a NZ team or running more overlap with the TN and the NPC, which does take the AB’s out of the NPC.

NZ could even have another S12 team. They could then expand the NPC 1st Division to 12 teams, without promo-relegation [yeah, I know we all prefer it but financially it's more stable to remove it] and put two 1st Division teams into each S12 franchise. Much better balance, avoiding some of the problems we have now.

All of these are options and I believe the NZRFU erred in not trading an expanded S14/16 for some other compromises that suited NZ rugby.

Back to the RWC. I am sure that Australia can host the WC on their own, and that they will do a bloody good job with it. It’ll be a great spectacle. But I really don’t think that shafting NZ rugby in this way is in Australia’s best interests either. If this is payback for S14, so be it. But I would think that NZ rugby officials won’t forget this either, and the loss of goodwill between Australia and NZ is something neither country needs. Aussie needs us as much as we need them – both counties are so much stronger together. Vernon Pugh and the NH IRB reps must be rubbing their hands in glee as they see the traditional SH forces splinter, which seems to give the NH nations the power to do as they like at IRB level while NZ and Aus play tit for tat.

I think it’s a real pity that O’Neill and the ARU are so arrogant, and don’t have the vision to see that the short term gain of excluding NZ from the RWC may be very detrimental for Australian [and NZ] rugby long term.

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