Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: NZRU should run with Pacific Islands team idea

Samoan players perform the  siva tau during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Alan Gibson
Samoan players perform the siva tau during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Alan Gibson

Break out the kava and celebrate. The middle-management proposal to establish a Pacific Islands team in Auckland, to play in the Super rugby competition, is the most exciting news to emerge in the game for many years.

Let's dare to dream, or more importantly, demand that the people who run rugby in New Zealand and Sanzar dream this dream and make it happen.

The story, which broke in yesterday's Herald, sourced the concept to this country's Super 15 coaches, which is a significant day in New Zealand rugby.

The New Zealand Rugby Union has a tricky job, balancing overseas power against domestic considerations. But the fact is, head office has too much control. The national game has been mired in a bunker mentality for too long.

What the Pacific Islands idea represents is a faith in the local product, rather than the grandiose scheming which flies around Hong Kong, Tokyo, Buenos Aires and beyond while ignoring the riches on our doorstep.

I hope the coaches involved are prepared to speak publicly, to put important names and faces to the concept while giving solid reasons to back up the plan. If the powerbrokers start talking the idea down, all ammunition is essential to talk it back up.

There will be a heck of a lot of nitty gritty to sort out, including the eligibility criteria for the PI team. We also need to know that the Pacific Island nations are happy with a combined concept - New Zealanders too easily forget the national and cultural differences that lie within the region.

Next topic - money. If the PI team is made up of players not aligned to All Blacks selection, the NZRU is - on current form - unlikely to be keen on paying them.

But as I said - dream the dream, which is how many of the world's great inventions have come to fruition. Inspiration first, perspiration second.

In no particular order, these could be the benefits.-

A revitalisation of Auckland rugby, with a cross-town rivalry at the centre of the resurgence. Competition will force the Blues to up their game.

A revival of the stadium debate. The need for a mid-sized stadium must always remain on the table. The Blues, PI team, Warriors and New Zealand Football could join forces to mount a political campaign. A new rugby spirit in Auckland could go a long way to convincing local and national authorities that a stadium a-la Suncorp in Brisbane is essential, that Eden Park is a ball and chain for Auckland sport.

A big step towards making Samoa, Tonga and Fiji fully fledged members of the international rugby community whereby they can unleash their true power on the highest stage.

The plan also proposes that anyone playing in the Super competition would be eligible for the All Blacks, a fantastic idea. Protective thinking is limiting and boring. It would be fascinating to watch All Blacks playing for Australian or South African teams, like a real professional sport. (As an aside, this might lead to battles for players in Australia, for instance, who qualify for the All Blacks).

There would be a big rugby game on in Auckland almost every week.

Finally, congratulations to everyone involved, whoever you may be. And don't forget, it would be nice, and advantageous, for the rest of us to know who you are.

Dubious calls Things I Wish I'd Never Written (or written a bit differently):

1) That Ben Smith wouldn't make it as an All Black. Please, does anyone have a rock I can hide under.

2) That Thomas Leuluai was a lemon signing for the Warriors. At the time of writing it was a reasonable call. But despite obvious limitations, the guy has a great attitude, is combative and showed what he can contribute as the season progressed.

3) Steve Matai is a thug. Highlighting the bad obscured the good. Or the great. There are times when Manly's Matai might rate as the best of all our centres, period, although that relates more to NRL performances than the Kiwis. But Matai's frequent transgressions have tainted his standing and legacy unfortunately. He's linked with Samoa for this year's World Cup and will be a massive loss to the Kiwis.

Aggressive commentary

An America's Cup observation ... there was something disturbing about Peter Lester's TVNZ commentary on the final race at San Francisco.

His tone was markedly different and aggressive towards Oracle. To my ears, Lester put over-emphasis on turning the lopsided showdown into one of decent, hardworking sailors (New Zealand of course) beaten by dubious technology funded by obscene amounts of money.

Perhaps he (and other Oracle sceptics) were groomed or influenced by off-the-record comments from Team New Zealand. I have an inkling there is a gap between what TNZ have said (quite sportingly) on the record, and what they think and have said off the record. Private chats have a huge influence over what is reported.

Russell Coutts was adamant that claims Oracle used unfair automation were wrong. This issue remains unresolved - Joe and Jane Public have been left in limbo. But if Coutts is right, then Oracle have been unfairly treated.

Should Team New Zealand take Russell Coutts back, if the America's Cup genius is available? Absolutely. In a heartbeat. Easiest decision of the year.

Release the hounds, start the hunt, although Coutts' loyalties clearly lie with Larry Ellison so he's not likely to be turned.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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