As the smokescreen fades and the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter we get to ponder what the new order of rugby in New Zealand will look like. One thing is certain we will be forced to internalise competition as the return of global rugby will be in the more distant future.
Club rugby will have a higher profile future with the on field return of provincial players and All Blacks. I imagine this will stimulate a renaissance with spectator numbers growing quickly at community grounds, breathing life into clubs. The base of our game will once again become the foundation we have almost lost as the pathway toward professional or international rugby is restored.
Promising players need to play to grow and the stronger the competition is, the quicker they learn. Provincial coaches may well be selected from club rugby again because local knowledge will be paramount as outsiders become fewer. Club pride and allegiance will be rejuvenated.
Super Rugby will wrap up indefinitely with a home and away series to satisfy sponsors and contracts. Next year the focus will return to the provinces which will be selected from club rugby. Respective Union bosses need to streamline their competitions and be smarter to ensure we provide the right product at the right time. The Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland rugby teams will be picked from the club competition and not from the 1st XVs for the simple reason that the competitive level will once again be greater – and certainly tougher.
What a great opportunity we have to get things right as we focus on our domestic rivalries once again. The battle of the bridge, Auckland vs Waikato, Wellington vs Canterbury, to name just a few. There is 150 years of tribalism in rugby and I will welcome its return. I can see myself hoping in the car and driving to the Arena at Palmerston North to watch Manawatu vs Wellington. Who does this, these days?
At national level let’s restore the All Black Trials and the North vs South matches. They are great stages for coaches and players to stake their claims. Where else can you compete against the best in your position with equal opportunity? It sorts out the best from the very best. As I write this blog my skin is tingling at the prospect. This was how a boy from a small town, a third division aspirant could prove himself against the best and win selection without having to drift to the big city. We need the diversity that country boys offer. They grow differently from their city counterparts.
The All Blacks will also need world class opposition and we can find this across the Tasman. ANZAC day reminds us of our historic and geographic alliance. Don’t be mistaken and believe the picture that’s being painted at present, that Australian rugby isn’t what it once was. Dave Rennie will change all this in the next couple of years. I have seen this man grow over a period of 10 years as a Staff coach at IRANZ. He built his craft from the leading edge knowledge that surrounded him. He is ready to coach internationally.
We will retain our position at or near the top of the world rankings only if we focus on getting our own house in order. We cannot get side tracked by the outside world, who in the past have marvelled at the NZ school of rugby.
NZR will need a clear strategy to invest in the NZ game, to identify and develop their coaches, players and National Teams at various levels. They must market and sell the advantages players and coaches have to remain here in NZ in order to maximise their potential.