North v South: The crown jewel or final fling?
OPINION: We could never have imagined that North versus South might become the high point of New Zealand’s rugby year.
Far from disbanding, following Saturday’s rescheduled clash in Wellington, the two sides may as well stay in camp.
The chances of South Africa playing in New Zealand this season look remote.
Between COVID-19 and the apparent lure of playing in Europe, the Springboks appear unlikely to end up on the All Blacks’ schedule.
Argentina may or may not come either, leaving Australia as potentially New Zealand’s sole international foe for 2020.
As Bledisloe Cup series’ go, this year’s hardly promises to be box office.
I’ve been a bit down on North versus South. A bit miffed about how it ended up on the schedule and a bit turned off by the phoney rivalries that people have attempted to manufacture.
If debating whether Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga is the better first five-eighth is the best we can come up with, then rugby in New Zealand is more boring than we thought.
But actually North versus South might be as good as it gets this year.
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And, actually, rather than being an artificial and meaningless one-off, attempts ought to be made to extend this out to three matches.
The knock-on North versus South was that it had no context and no stature.
Sure, it was a regular part of the schedule once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and All Blacks all played club rugby, but it means nothing to rugby fans now.
Well, let’s make it mean something. Let’s admit that The Rugby Championship isn’t going to be staged here – and that fans won’t be able to go – and come up with something else.
I’ve always favoured an all-singing, all-dancing NPC for 2020.
When Super Rugby Aotearoa was being mooted, my view was that the public and the game would be better served by having our best players dispersed among the provinces.
If nothing else, that model would have lessened the attrition that we’ve seen in Super Rugby. More than that, though, it would have connected more All Blacks with more communities and that’s something we could all benefit from right now.
Instead, we had Super Rugby Aotearoa and continued – if continually evolving – plans for a Rugby Championship.
The first was a success, if hard on a few bodies, but the hopes of holding the second really do look less likely by the day.
None of which will harm interest in Saturday’s match in Wellington.
Already the respective North and South coaching staffs have been urging the players to take the game seriously. Not to treat it as a festival match, but a standalone fixture of some substance.
Ordinarily, that would be easier said than done, but 2020 isn’t your ordinary year.
How much better might North v South be if the players knew there was a rematch in two weeks’ time and a potential decider a fortnight after that? How much more cohesive might the teams be by then, and in-tune with the new All Blacks’ staff, after that long in camp?
Yes, we all know Ian Foster is due to announce the first All Blacks’ squad of the year on Sunday, but why? Who are they actually playing and when?
This isn’t the year to be inflexible and be wedded to plans for no reason.
We get that Foster wants to get his hands on the players and to keep them safe from the harm that sometimes comes with playing, but for what? A clash with World Cup champions South Africa? I don’t think so.
If North v South is such a good concept, then let’s prove it. Let’s admit this year isn’t panning out how we’d planned and extend the inter-island series.
Done right, these games really could be the highlights of the 2020 rugby season.