OPINION: NZ kings of a crumbling castle
The run was inevitably going to end eventually and the result was as good as guaranteed early in the match when Tevita Nabura decided to use Cam Clark’s face to support his mid-air landing – resulting in a red card.
In the lead up to the match, there were a number of ideas floated to even up the competition, which has once again been dominated by the New Zealand teams this year. In particular, former Wallaby Mark Ella has called for New Zealand to loosen up the eligibility policies for the national team and allow All Blacks to represent foreign Super Rugby franchises.
The New Zealand Rugby Union naturally is quite happy with the way things are set up at the moment – having all of its important assets located in the country. Though Australia is not quite as far away as Europe or Japan, it’s still considerably easier to monitor how players are tracking when they’re playing in your backyard, as opposed to the next yard over.
As everyone in New Zealand rugby is centrally contracted it’s also much easier to get the NZ coaches on board with losing their players to various All Blacks camps scattered throughout the season. The Chiefs had to play without their All Blacks in their match against the Sharks for this very reason – something that would be a much harder sell to David Wessels or Brad Thorn in Australia.
There’s also the small matter that letting All Blacks represent Super Rugby teams outside of New Zealand will obviously weaken the Kiwi sides – something that would seem highly undesirable to the NZRU.
The New Zealand national team has been the apex predator in the ecosystem that is international rugby for an almost outrageous length of time now. Since the World Rugby rankings were established in 2003, only three teams have held the number one position: England (for half a year), South Africa (for just under a year), and New Zealand.
The All Blacks have utterly dominated the international game, which, although pleasing for the country itself, has somewhat dampened matches between New Zealand and the rest of the world. In the Southern Hemisphere’s premier international competition, The Rugby Championship, the question is no longer which team will win, but by how many points New Zealand will come out on top.
Whilst there will always be some interest in how the rest of the world can fair against New Zealand, there is always going to be far more investment in matches between two relatively even teams. The Six Nations is certainly the most interesting and watchable annual international tournament now, and a huge part of this is because every year it is almost impossible to predict who will be crowned champion.
Rugby in Australia is fighting an ongoing battle with other sports codes – a battle which it seems to be losing, based on both viewership and player numbers. Naturally, children will flock to sports in which they see their state and national heroes perform well in. Rugby does not fit the bill here and hasn’t for some time.
New Zealand’s dominance of the international game must be turning away a number of potential viewers – and Super Rugby is heading in the same direction. It’s reached the point now where South African teams are competing for at most two spots in the finals every year – and Australian teams
seem to be fighting it out for one spot.
Professional sport is, by its very nature, supposed to be competitive. New Zealand and its Super Rugby teams want to be top of the world, that’s a given, but when the competition isn’t up to standard and viewership is falling, it may be worth considering mixing things up a bit. New Zealand may be the kings of the castle at the moment, but this won’t be any consolation if the castle collapses beneath them.
There are always going to be mouths to feed and pockets to line – that’s how professional sport operates, money talks. But at the end of the day, sport is a spectacle. Without the audience, without the fans, the game will die. Perhaps New Zealand doesn’t have a lot to gain from giving some of the other Super Rugby teams a leg up in the competition, but with the way the competition is heading at the moment, New Zealand does have a huge amount to lose by sitting back and doing nothing. Will New Zealand’s continual dominance of the game ultimately be rugby’s downfall?