Re-invigorating the All Blacks

In the sports news this week…

Some wally from the Australian Rugby Union thinks that the Super 14 and Tri-Nations need “re-invigorating”.

What’s more his solution is adding more teams to the Super 14. Specifically, a Melbourne-based team blended from players from Argentina, Australia & the Pacific Islands (dare I ask where the coach might come from?) That would also pave the way for adding Argentina to the Tri-Nations.

Of course, both competitions currently have names based on the number of teams they feature, so both will need re-branding, which is exciting news for the marketing folks I’m sure.

Enough, I say!

Here are two simple lessons that seems to have evaded rugby administrators:

  1. More is often less; and
  2. Variety is the spice of life.

For what it’s worth, here is what I think the NZRU should do in 2010 when their current broadcasting arrangement expires:

Scrap the Tri-Nations & Super 14

Adding Argentina to an annual Tri-Nations competition is not going to make it more interesting, it will just add more games and more travel.

Playing a competition over so many weeks and across so many time zones just doesn’t create the interest that is required. Playing over more weeks and more time zones doesn’t seem like a sensible solution.

Playing regularly against NZ & South African teams might have created a golden generation within Australian rugby, but it’s time we put them back into their box.

Back in 1996 this new competition was an exciting proposition. But nobody cares enough about this anymore. It’s time to move on.

Cancelling the Super 14 would allow each of the individual countries to put their energies back into developing a strong local provincial competition (somebody should remind that chap from the ARU that their track record in this respect is not exactly stellar and that they might get their own house in order before they start to giving advice to the rest of us!)

And, with SANZAR out of the way South Africa would be free to affiliate themselves with European competitions, which actually makes a lot more sense for them given their location/time zone.

Create a Pacific Championships

This could be a mini World Cup style tournament, played every four years (in between full World Cups) featuring teams from around the Asia & Pacific region.

The model I have in mind here is football’s European Championships.

One possible format for this would be a 12 team tournament, with four pools of three teams playing each other and the winners advancing to a knock-out semi-final and final. Perhaps those teams finishing second in each pool could also participate in a knock-out round of their own (like the plate format used in sevens). Either way this would mean the whole tournament could be completed in just five weeks.

Just like the full World Cup the tournament could be hosted in a different country every four years (unlike the World Cup we might actually allow the tournament to be hosted by countries outside of the major rugby playing nations – I hear they have a few big stadiums in Japan which should be sufficient for the inaugural tournament).

Here are the top 12 teams from this region based on current world rankings (in brackets):

  • New Zealand (2)
  • Argentina (3)
  • Australia (5)
  • Fiji (9)
  • Samoa (12)
  • Tonga (13)
  • Canada (14)
  • Japan (18)
  • USA (19)
  • Uruguay (20)
  • Korea (23)
  • Chile (24)

Nine of those teams played in the last World Cup, so there should be no concerns about the quality of the teams that would be involved (assuming of course that we can convince Argentina to be involved along with those of us who didn’t qualify for the semis in the last World Cup!)

One of the many great things about this idea is that the All Blacks would end up playing in a lot of places that they don’t currently ever visit, and playing teams that they currently rarely (if ever) play outside of World Cups.

Consider this…

Q: Excluding Australia and South Africa how many times have the All Blacks played in the other 9 countries listed above?

A: Only 6 times, all of them in Argentina (and only twice in the professional era). They have never played in the Islands, Asia or Americas.

Playing in other countries can only be good for the growth of the All Black brand around the world.

What’s more, it would provide an incentive for players to remain in New Zealand between World Cups.

Tours

It’s amazing that this even needs to be in a list like this. You don’t have to go back too many years when the international tour, both tours to NZ by international teams and extended overseas tours by the All Blacks, was part of the life-blood of rugby.

It’s telling that I can remember so many of the details of the 1996 tour to South Africa (the mid-week captain, for example, was a young Taine Randal; there were actually four tests, but only the last three counted towards the test series; the winning penalty in the second test was kicked by Jon Preston who was only on the field as a replacement; after holding on desperately to a slim lead for what seems to be an eternity in the closing minutes of the test at Loftus Versfeld, when the final whistle finally blew captain Sean Fitzpatrick spend a minute lying on the ground exausted). Meanwhile, the details of the many Tri-Nations games played by the same teams in South Africa since them all sort of blend into one, and seem to have far less significance.

In 2005 we got a taste and reminder of this here with the tour to NZ by the Lions. For the first time in years a touring team played against provincial competition in provincial stadiums, fans from overseas visited en mass, and the All Blacks lifted themselves to the challenge and played some spectacular rugby. It was a huge success. But it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anybody to try and replicate this on a more frequent basis.

Think of the great tours overseas that the All Blacks could take – to Great Britain, to France, to South Africa, to Argentina. They could take a full squad, play mid-week and weekends, and play a proper test series.

That would be worth getting up in the middle of the night for!

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Re-invigorating the All Blacks”

  1. A friend and I have spent far to much time discussing the format of the Super 14 at the pub. Our drunken expert opinion is to scrap the Super 14 entirely and replace it with a Champions League, which is based on local competitions like the NPC (we could never work out if it would need association rankings as it depends on the number of associations/teams). This way you’d have a decent length competition, encourage local depth and long-term squad building, and give the smaller clubs a chance at the limelight if they have a great season.

    An ‘Oceania Cup’ held every four years instead of the yearly Tri-nations could be interesting, if the unions took it seriously and not a marketing exercise to break into ‘new markets’ for broadcasting (USA, Japan, etc).

  2. The “Champions League” analogy falls down a little. The thing with Champions League is that any one of the teams from the last 16 has a realistic chance of winning it. There are only 2 or 3 teams that would could win a Rugby Champions League.

    I don’t really have an answer, but SuperX and tri-nations just isn’t working. I think the biggest problem is the strength of the competitions. There just aren’t enough good teams each year to make it interesting.

    I have read somewhere suggesting that a NZRFU sponsored team plays in the European Leagues. That is an idea worthy of discussion over a drink some day….

  3. The professional era ah? They haven’t got it right and I sincerely hope they do soon. It just seems it’s all about the money.

    My interest in the game is slowly waning and I think it’s due to an overload of rugby that seems to be the same old same old. The sad thing is, the rugby that is missing out is the NPC and I believe is where our passion for the game grows from.

    The repetitiveness starts with the Super 12/14(/15?!) where the same old teams dominate and the Hurricanes look oh so promising but just don’t bring home the bacon.

    Then it’s the Tri-nations which is great rugby… BUT we saw it all last year (and the year before).

    After that there’s a lacklustre tour which inevitably has me on the couch at any hour but as you say, it’s just not the same as the epic tours of the old days.

    Personally, I really like the idea of a Champions League style competition. It would mean that our top teams (aside from the national side) would be our provincial sides.

    We’d still have our normal NPC but then they’d have random games against other club / regional teams from around the world which is part of a world club championship! Fantastic stuff!

    This would bring back a lot of provincial pride. It’s diminished somewhat since super rugby was introduced for obvious reasons.

    It would also mean players would only have to jump from club rugby level to the big time. Psychologically this would be great for players. I’d also guess that it’d also bring back alot of support and interest in the local club rugby scene which is the root for passion in the oval ball.

    So if we do all of that and then at the end of it have a major All Blacks tour that involves playing numerous provincial sides and at least 3 tests all over different parts of the world each year, I’d say we can’t go wrong!

    Personally, I think a NZRFU sponsored team playing in the European League is a rubbish idea… how’s it going to help rugby back here?!? In saying that, it’s definately worth a debate over a beer (or six ;-).

    The ‘Oceania Cup’ is a nice idea but I still need convincing.

    Bledisloe Cup? Thoughts? Maybe every two years instead of every year…?

    Ps. Go the mighty Bush! ;)

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