Hooray and so say all of us! Super Rugby Aotearoa was a revelation. The weekend of rugby was full of action, intent and excitement; a New Zealand showcase, with Kiwi players, coaches and referees; and commercially viable in the global market place.
The Mitre 10 Cup with our All Blacks and All Black aspirants playing for their lives promises to be a similar success.
Next weekend the grandstands will be more crowded than they have been since Super Rugby was launched 24 years ago. It begs the question – “was the Super Rugby played over the last two decades good for the game in New Zealand?” We must seriously consider changing the format to one that works for New Zealand, not for Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
The Ranfurly Shield match between Canterbury and Taranaki was déjà vu for this former player who remembers the challenge, total commitment, passion and pride of playing for your region. Most of all I remember the intense demands it placed on the coaches, players, referees and spectators. No compromise, front up or go home with nothing. When the full-time whistle blew, SkyTV captured the ecstasy and emotions beautifully. I had a smile from ear to ear and a shiver running down my spine. Would this have been the same without the Barrett brothers and Boshier representing Taranaki and Sam Whitelock and Ritchie Mo’unga, playing for Canterbury – no way I cry!
This fine form of rugby produces much better players. It exposes weaknesses and reveals strengths. All Blacks are discovered, standards are set and there is no going back. You know what it takes and second best doesn’t rate.
Wellington vs Auckland at Eden Park is always a big one, spectators or no spectators. The players were not playing to the audience, they were playing for their team and their region. When I viewed the starting lineups I thought the home team were destined to be the victors but I had forgotten the most important lesson of all. “A good team will always beat a team of good players.”
There is always a competition within the competition. Amongst the euphoria, there is a personal battle to be won. For me the one that stood out was the loose forward battle for ascendency. Ioane, Sotutu and Choat vs Savea, Fifita and Kirifi. Four of the six were All Blacks but the two who stole the day were Kirifi and Choat. The media favourites were quiet by comparison. You will hear more of these two I am sure.