Chris Rattue on sport

The latest sport analysis and comment from Herald columnist Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue: Auckland rugby needs a revolution

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Blues Jared Payne is tackled during game against the Chiefs. Photo / Richard Robinson
Blues Jared Payne is tackled during game against the Chiefs. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland rugby needs a giant shake-up and having the Blues perched near the top of the Super 15 tables presents an illusion about the city's rugby strength.

The Blues were awful against the Chiefs on Saturday night in a very poor game. Judging by the grandstand scenes, a lot of people were put off by a combination of bad weather and Auckland's poorly sited and outdated stadium. Considering Auckland is the country's largest city, the Blues are challenging for the title and the Chiefs represent a local derby, this was a sadly vacant scene.

Auckland rugby is crawling and the national game ain't much better. Rugby loses money hand over fist. The reserves are dwindling. Looking at the poor crowds, you wonder if the game is heading towards insolvency. The highly patterned modern rugby does not appeal to an Auckland audience.

One positive thing on the horizon is Gareth Anscombe - the Auckland first five-eighths who should have been in the Blues squad this year. Instead, we got the confusing import-export Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister show, one of limited rugby intelligence.

In the 66th minute against the Chiefs, the Blues ignored turning the referee's advantage into a vital penalty shot. Game over. Sean Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke would have cringed.

Anyway, here's a shake-up plan for Auckland and the Blues.

First, out with Andy Dalton, the chief executive. How did he get the job in the first place? Dalton was an excellent All Black but a dour character from the rugby union blazer brigade.

David Moffett, the former boss of the New Zealand Rugby Union, might make an interesting choice as his replacement. Moffett is a strong character who emphasises the importance of tribalism in making sport interesting. Dalton is one of the unsmiling giants. Moffett knows the public counts. The Blues need star power and to reconnect with the fans.

A former player suggested to me recently that the Auckland and North Harbour club competitions be combined, to rebuild a rugby spirit across the city and amp up the quality of the club competition. Go one step further, troops, and scrap having two unions in the city. Something needs to happen. Anything.

Auckland, or the Blues, should set exciting standards in rugby. They only top the New Zealand Super 15 conference because the Crusaders are nomads and the other New Zealand teams are awful.

The standard of New Zealand rugby has never been lower in the professional era. Think back to the excitement around the game when the Blues and Crusaders ruled, the night the Crusaders obliterated the Waratahs, when the Hurricanes were packed with celebrities, when the Highlanders had a test front row and frightened all-comers, and so on and so forth. Compare your memories to your feeling for the Super 15 today.

They told us that the Westpac Stadium in Wellington was a central city winner that would always burst at the seams. Nowadays you can see all the seams and the only thing bursting apart is the Hurricanes squad. New Zealand's belief that it is the world rugby leader is codswallop. Europe might not match our skills, but the game is more vibrant there. South African and Australian grounds hum more than ours.

Rugby is dying at certain levels in New Zealand, especially in public interest outside the All Blacks. The World Cup won't be a saviour.

It was reported over the weekend that the NZRU's cumulative losses are up to $30 million over the past five years.

THIRTY MILLION! Governance changes are mooted.

A provincial administrator blamed provincial unions but didn't want to be named. Typical.

Rugby wants the spotlight but hides in the shadows. Controversy, personalities, predictions of comings and goings, dirty laundry, inside information, and - believe it or not - intense/heated/bitter rivalries: these are crucial to professional sport. Follow the coverage of rugby compared to that for major sports around the world and reach your own conclusion. The public wants a soap opera full of characters 10 foot tall as much as a game. Governance changes won't change that. Crucially, sport doesn't work properly as a television viewing experience when stadiums appear to be quite empty.

Before he was injured on Saturday night, Tana Umaga stood out with a couple of familiar bursts. He is a reminder of the good old days.

WEEKEND WINNER

SBW continues his relentless crusade to beat up some very ordinary boxing opponents.

WHAT TO WATCH

The Crusaders and Blues duke it out in Timaru on Saturday night.

- NZ Herald

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