15 Jul

Super-14: What's Super About It?
by Paul Waite
15 Jul 2001

Immerse yourself in the murky yesteryear World of John Le Carre. It’s 1969. The Cold War is at it’s height. Spies are everywhere, and there’s a Mole in The Circus.

Now bring yourself to the present. Imagine there’s a Mole in the NZRFU.

His mission is simple: infiltrate New Zealand Rugby, undermine it’s strength – the National Provincial Championship, disadvantage it’s position in the Super-12 with respect to Australia and South Africa, and do everything possible to increase player burn-out.

A nonsense scenario of course, but give the decision to cave in the Australia’s demands for the Super-14, it might as well be true since the facts seem to fit.

Let’s examine what the Super-14 will actually mean to New Zealand Rugby. Here are the essentials as they appear at the moment:

  • A longer ‘Super’ season: 94 games vs 69 for the S12.
  • A more compacted, intense international window. No rest weeks for the All Blacks now.
  • NPC shunted aside by pro-rugby. Very little All Blacks participation.
  • Extra team for Australia and SA in the S14.
  • No end-of-year tour for All Blacks to develop as a unit together

Now let’s look at the effects, as I see them, of each element above.

The first point: A longer Super season. God help me, but as a spectator I want less rugby than we have now, not more. This is killing us with kindness. I’d like to be able to savour a rugby season once more; to be hanging out for it to start each year, instead of thinking “oh no, not again” as it begins amidst the crack of leather on willow in the cricket season.

The effect of the large increase in the number of games will be to move rugby dangerously close to being simply an “entertainment commodity”. Under the assault, spectators will be forced to pick and choose and in so doing will simply browse Super-14 rugby like a soap opera – picking it up as and when they feel the need, discarding it just as abruptly. It will bring more of a new breed of spectator: the vicarious “shopper” for entertainment.

In short, too much rugby disenfranchises the true rugby supporter of old, and encourages the dumb thrill-seeker.

The second point: a more compacted international season. The massive Super-14 juggernaut has forced SANZAR to compress the international and Tri-Series season to fit. The result is that the players are being asked to play all their test rugby one week after the next, with no breaks. Given that the NZRFU stance was to address the problems of player burnout, this is a complete cop-out. The effects are simple here: more injuries, less quality play, and more players leaving for overseas contracts.

The third point: The Demise of The NPC. This is the worst blow of the lot. Notice that the NPC isn’t publicly being castrated of it’s All Blacks, but the effect will be the same. The NZRFU know that New Zealanders don’t want this, so they have managed to allow a small window of a few rounds of the NPC to remain. This will only last a season or two however, and after that the NPC will be a second-rate competition which sponsors and TV will gradually grow cold on. It will become a feeder for pro-rugby. The emphasis is always being directed towards the professional arena, and the NPC is lined up in the sights of the moguls. It has no place in their plans. It is an irritation to them.

The result is once again simple. New Zealand rugby will be weakened by this move massively. Our strength has always been the depth and the way we bring talent through the grades from a wide base wherein the elite All Blacks mix fully and share knowledge and encouragement by training and playing as far down the pyramid as possible.

The new model is the American model, where elite talent is scouted early and separated from mere mortals to be groomed in special academys and so forth. The drive is to separate the elite professional circus from the unwashed, and to keep it that way. In short The New Zealand Difference, our egalitarian pyramid of sport where everyone has an equal shot and mutual respect whatever their level of attainment is being surgically removed.

And another thing; has the NZRFU asked the players what they want? I’ll bet not. If they did they’d probably find most All Blacks really love getting stuck into NPC rugby as a balm against all the frenetic international stuff.

The fourth point: Extra teams for Australia and SA. This one is simple. The change benefits Australia hugely and to a lesser extent South Africa, whilst having no advantage for New Zealand. At the same time that we are shooting our own developmental strength, the NPC, in the head, we are increasing the development base of Australia.

The fifth point: No end-of-year tours for the All Blacks. Faced with the increase in rugby with the Super 14, and keen to try and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes that the NZRFU were addressing player burnout as promised, they have simply axed the end-of-season tour. What a brilliant strategy. At a time when our All Blacks are in dire need of the in-depth rugby immersion that the overseas tour offers, we remove the possibility.

The main effects are obvious. The All Blacks will become a bit like the Kiwi RL team, assembling for short periods just before jetting off and playing a test. Good for the balance sheet but bad for team morale and building the kind of understanding we have seen in previous New Zealand teams.

Additionally, the NZRFU were keen to stress that one of our our many “wins” with the Super-14 deal was that SANZAR would kindly support us in our quest for a share of overseas gate money. Aside from the fact that this promise equates to nothing tangible, the canning of overseas tours does seem to render this largely redundant.

In summary the Super-14 package is an absolute disaster for New Zealand rugby. The NZRFU and in particular Rutherford look to have had themselves well and truly rodgered by a professional set of negotiators and have come away having been convinced they’ve “won”. Classic.

What we’ve done is strengthened the opposition immeasurably whilst at the same time increasing the load on players, emasculating our NPC, treating our All Blacks like commodities, and threatening to bore the pants off the rugby public by saturating them with too much rugby.

The only hope is that apparently this deal still needs to be ratified by the NZRFU before it’s set in stone.

Ratified? What an appropriate phrase; the smell of rodent is pretty pervasive that’s for sure. Let’s hope the NZRFU have another look and trashify it instead.

It don’t look good from where I’m sitting. How about you?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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