Rugby v league. Super 15 v the NRL. We have to be in awe of the physical advances in both codes, although the purpose of this column is to point out where Aussie league has it all over New Zealand rugby at this level.
The idea that our rugby needs a significant attitude shift occurred to me yet again after watching a recent TV interview with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
I'd go further and say the rugby monopoly's allegedly religion-like status in this country is hogwash if you were to study its everyday place in New Zealand life compared to say soccer in Brazil, the AFL in some Australian states, league in northern English strongholds, rugby in more passionate places like France, or - to venture left-field - badminton in Malaysia.
Let's start by saying that the pace of rugby and league, the physical impact, and the ability of players to hold the ball and produce moments of blinding skill in a demolition derby is remarkable.
A Piri Weepu try against the Highlanders was a stunner - with the added attraction of the veteran lock Ali Williams looming up at the perfect time to provide a critical pass. Sport like that is such a buzz.
How the rugby and league blokes manage to get up and do it all again week after week, nearly all year round, is staggering. I used to trundle up to a league hangout in Parnell where old Kiwis hobbled around on joints that appeared to be controlled by a drunk puppeteer. How will the current players feel in 10, 20 years time, you wonder.
Whatever floats your boat, be it rugby or league, there is one area where the 13-a-side code wins every time and that's the integrity of its NRL competition. In contrast, the Super 15 always has another agenda going on in this country - invariably the All Blacks - and it is such a shame because the essential club element of any professional sport is being lost.
Indicative issues include:
Top players are sanctioned to act in their All Black interests rather than for the Super 15 teams. Tony Woodcock moved from the Blues to the Highlanders to prolong his test career rather than make the southern franchise great (and it shows). Keven Mealamu delayed his return, even though the underpowered Blues desperately needed the much-admired veteran's services. Ma'a Nonu doesn't seem to give a stuff wherever he goes.
Hansen - a breath of fresh rugby air with his directness - reckoned we couldn't expect All Blacks to be at their peak yet, given the long season.
Appointments are All Blacks-related or have NZRU agendas (ie Ian Foster's retention at the Chiefs)
Few would deny Richie McCaw's need for a rest, yet players battle on for their clubs in other professional codes.
The removal of 20-odd All Blacks from half of the competition in 2007 sounded a death knell for Super Rugby's credibility that has not been silenced.
In contrast, the NRL's players and coaches stay in the moment, want to hit the ground running and are clearly desperate to play at all times. Sure, they talk about representative matters, but without taking a foot off their own pedal.
The Super 15 is a half-hearted holding pattern before the tests, with little to sustain fans between games. Outside of the All Blacks people don't support rugby with nearly the fervour found in other sports and countries, and the rugby atmosphere is actually quite boring. (Exhibits A & B: Here we are, slap bang in the rugby season, and a weird cricket administration controversy and netball biffo are hogging the headlines.)
The Super 15 was a fantastic competition in the freewheeling early days but is falling ever-shorter of its real and important potential. The All Blacks might even be stronger if the competition and rivalries below were more genuine.
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