27 Mar

The Guiding Principles of NZ Rugby
by Paul Waite
27 Mar 2008

ER_MudRugbyThe NZRU are currently involved in what sounds a bit like a ‘think-tank’ process with the aim, they say, of establishing some guiding principles to enable them to plot the course for New Zealand rugby over the coming years.

The challenges they see are the same as we all see. The financial pressures which draw our players off-shore, the popularity and support for the sport from the public, the way the game is played, the health of the game at the grass-roots, and the viability of our national competitions.

The basic idea of the think-tank is a good one. Without the light cast by the kind of guiding principles that they talk about, the danger is that the game could end up losing its way, and perhaps trading traditions for short-term dollars.

There are a some principles that we here at Haka would like to see on the list. They aren’t exhaustive, and aren’t intended to solve all the problems in front of us, but here they are, in no particular order.

  • Rugby should continue to be a game for all body types.
  • A strong national, provincial NZ-only competition must be retained.
  • The All Black jersey should have its mana upheld (restored).
  • Tours which include mid-week games against provincial teams (hosting in NZ, and visiting abroad) should be re-established.
  • Rugby should be played on a Saturday afternoon as often as possible, at all levels.
  • All Black tests should be played here in NZ as often as they are now.
  • Fast-tracking of young players from school-level via ‘academies’ etc. should be stopped, and club rugby made the focus of rugby apprenticeship.
  • All Black tests should all be shown live on Free To Air TV.
  • School and club rugby should continue to be strongly supported.

The body types one refers to the ELVs and possible future pushes for law changes which aim at speeding the game up. Speeding it up any further will result in this principle being undermined, as teams seek out forwards who can maintain the aerobic effort levels required of them. This will result in the extinction of the traditional ‘fattie’ front-rower, which would be unacceptable, and a big blow to the game world-wide.

The retention and support of a national New Zealand-only provincial competition should always be the top level of the sport in this country. Super-rugby is not the same, and is designed to achieve different ends. It serves the media moguls who pay for it, and is internationalised, which tends to develop a sameness in rugby styles between the teams over time. Preserving a strong national competition provides a bridge from Club rugby to Super rugby, and most importantly allows the New Zealand style of rugby to be retained as well.

The All Black jersey has been much de-valued over the previous few years, and this next principle is linked with the one following it regarding tours. The reason the Black Jersey has suffered in this way is a direct result of there not being enough rugby being played mid-week on tours as there once was. To rectify this, those tours need to be re-instated, both away from home, and when hosting other national unions.

Night rugby is a blight on the game, and should be minimised as much as possible. Everyone knows that this comes about simply because of money to be made from advertisers, when NZ rugby is screened in the Northern Hemisphere. We feel that a way has to be found to stop this, since the best rugby is always played in daylight, and in the end that’s what the public want to see.

One-off money-making tests, such as the up-coming Bledisloe Cup to be played in Hong Kong this season are all very well and good. The NZRU rightly insisted that the test have “meaning” by being a Bledisloe Cup test, rather than just being some kind of money-spinning exhibition match, however this does not go far enough. The danger is that tests which would normally have been played here in New Zealand could be exported to more profitable venues around the globe, just because the bottom line makes it so much more ‘sensible’. All Black tests which would normally have been played here, and indeed the same number in total which normally would have been played here, should still be played in New Zealand. Since there is a limit to the number of tests which the All Blacks can physically play in a season, this guiding principle should be good enough.

The fast-tracking of talented young players from school level, often by-passing club rugby entirely results in a less rounded player than we have seen in years past. Club rugby puts precocious young lads alongside grizzled and experienced old hands. They get knocked on their arses, brought down to earth, and schooled in the black arts by hardened, if less talented, players who have been around the block. Time spent in this environment knocks the edges off, engenders resilience, teaches a great deal in a short time, and is invaluable. It also works the opposite way around, in that Clubs once again become the central source of talent, and derive pride from producing great Super Rugby players, or even All Blacks. Better, harder players are produced who still have the same talent but are less apt to get too carried away by it and forget where they came from, and why they are playing the game. As well as producing better players for our top level, this has the effect of re-invigorating the grass roots of the game – a win-win.

There isn’t a lot to say about the next one. The All Blacks are playing for the nation, and should be available live on our national free-to-air television channels. It’s a travesty that they are not, and this should be remedied.

Finally, rather a scatter-gun principle, that school and club rugby should continue to be supported. These are the well-spring of our player resources, and without them, there will be no All Black team occupying the No.1 spot in the World rankings. Support comes mainly from financial means, but looking back at the issue of how to handle young up-and-coming players it also depends on roles and general valuing of these areas of the game.

That’s it. We wish the delegates at the NZRFU think tank all the best in your deliberations!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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