Chris Rattue on sport
The latest sport analysis and comment from Herald columnist Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue: All Aussie Super final wake up NZ needs

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Hopefully New Zealand loses the Super 15 title this season - a likely scenario - and misses out the next year, and the year after that.

Because repeated failure is the only thing that will kick our rugby out of an arrogant slumber that has robbed the fans of the joy that comes in supporting teams that aren't mere pawns in an overriding master plan.

The demise in playing standards among our Super 15 teams, which was evident again over the weekend, is due to one main factor: overly dominant central control has turned the professional teams into All Black patsies.

Watching New Zealand's rugby franchises go to war is akin to the branch offices of a corporation coming together for an annual sports day.

The rot set in a long time ago and the vague response by New Zealand's best players to the highest pressure situations at the World Cup - and that includes the last tournament - can be attributed in part to the lack of genuine, autonomous competitiveness in New Zealand's professional game.

Put it this way. When is the last time you heard one New Zealand Super 15 team have a crack at another?

Even when the flags are flying in the stands it looks more like a North Korean political rally than an up-and-at-'em sporting battle, as in other professional codes around the world.

There was always a lot more to rugby than the national team until the last decade or so. The game needs to be multi-dimensional - the extent of the All Black obsession has become a sickness.

The ridiculous holiday given to Richie "Hi-De-Hi" McCaw is an insult, the iconic moment that declared the All Blacks as an elite club rather than the national representative team as McCaw was put on glider time.

Can you imagine Australian league captain Cameron Smith taking eight months off and then being allowed to walk straight into the Kangaroo side? If McCaw doesn't want to play, then fine. I'd rather watch Sam Cane in that case, and Richie can let us all know when he's back into the swing of things. Stop mollycoddling the old stagers - if they can't handle the pace any more that's no disgrace - and let the new breed take their place.

Superstar Dan Carter was floating about in Crusaders' games, and then took paternity leave.

It's the fans who are left holding the baby.

The ho-hum is everywhere. Waikato Stadium should be packed but there were plenty of empty seats when the champs played the Sharks on Saturday night. It's hard to concentrate on the Hurricanes' home matches because of the yellow glare from vacant seats.

No doubt the New Zealand Rugby Union would scoff at these calculations. But if it reduced the number of Northern Hemisphere tours, started treating the Super 15 with the respect it deserved, and filled our own stadiums up, it would compensate for the loss of All Black-related income. If the players got decent breaks between at least some seasons, they would have no excuses and get-out clauses. They might re-learn to come out firing each year instead of timing their runs and getting silly holiday ideas.

It's a calculated risk the NZRU won't take. The die has been cast. The New Zealand fans are conditioned to the All Black deal. But a run of lean years might force a rethink and get New Zealand's provincial rugby mojo back.

An all-Australian final between the Reds and Brumbies would be just the ticket for 2013. The boost that would give to Australian rugby - which unlike our high-and-mighty mob must fight for survival in a highly competitive sports environment - would be a good thing anyway. The atmosphere at Suncorp Stadium in particular puts New Zealand's limp support to shame. So go Aussie go.

- NZ Herald

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