Re-invigorating the All Blacks

December 24, 2007

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):

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?