Public show faith in NZRU's handling of rugby

By Edward Gay

The State of Rugby: nzherald.co.nz has spent three months investigating the state of our national sport. Our video series launches today, accompanied by a series of reports about the public's views, and will continue for two weeks.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew and All Blacks coach Graham Henry. Photos / Mark Mitchell, Brett Phibbs
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew and All Blacks coach Graham Henry. Photos / Mark Mitchell, Brett Phibbs

The much maligned New Zealand Rugby Union has the support of the majority of the public, according to a new poll.

The NZRU has been under fire over a number of issues in recent years, including the reappointment of Graham Henry, the revamp of the provincial rugby competition and a disappointing run for the All Blacks in the first part of the 2009 season.

However, the majority of people say the union is doing a good job. A DigiPoll carried out for nzherald.co.nz asked 600 people if they had faith in the NZRU to administer professional and amateur rugby properly. Over 62.3 per cent of people said "yes", 22.8 per cent said "no" and 14.8 per cent said "don't know" or refused to answer the question.

The polling is part of an investigation, starting today, by nzherald.co.nz into the state of rugby.

Former All Black captain Stu Wilson said he was not surprised by the
result.

He said the union has a huge roll in administering the game -
from Ripper Rugby to the All Blacks - and does a "hellishly good job".

He said those who are unhappy with the NZRU are likely from the provinces who could be sidelined in the future revamp of the provincial
championship.

"But at the end of the day, you're only as good as your reputation and
they do some great things," Mr Wilson said.

Exodus

The NZRU has faced its problems, including an exodus of All Blacks heading overseas in recent years which prompted headlines in the media such as "Depth reaches ground zero", "Scouts busy while eyes on NZ" and "Cullen fears sabbaticals will kill game for NZ rugby fans".

Among those that have so far made the move are Carl Hayman, Greg Somerville, Jerry Collins, Byron Kelleher, Nick Evans, Rico Gear, Doug Howlett, Ben Blair, Xavier Rush and Justin Marshall.

New Zealand Rugby Players Association Rob Nichol said players making the move overseas is not just an NZRU problem. "We're all in this together," Mr Nichol said.

He said a NZRPA survey found that about 99 per cent of professional rugby players enjoyed playing in New Zealand.

Asked how the NZRU had performed in keeping players in New Zealand, Mr Nichol said he and the players' association did not criticise the NZRU.

"As far as we're concerned, we're in this boat as well," Mr Nichol said.

He said New Zealand cannot compete with foreign pay checks but it is better than it was five years ago.

Provincial championship

Perhaps the biggest test of the NZRU last year was its handling of the provincial championship.

The NZRU faced an outcry from the smaller provincial unions when they tried to change the format of the national rugby premiership.

Northland Rugby union chairman Andrew Golightly said the DigiPoll may have had a different result if it had run before the NZRU decided to go with the status quo of the tournament for 2010.

"I think the final decision did give confidence to those of us in Northland rugby and it was one where common sense did prevail," Mr Golightly said.

"I think there is a confidence in the whole rugby landscape and perhaps we've seen this with the turnouts in Super Rugby," Mr Golightly said.

Maori rugby

But while the Air New Zealand Cup format has not changed, NZ Maori supporters are still waiting for a schedule.

Last year the NZ Maori side were sidelined by the NZRU in a cost cutting exercise.

The NZRU has released a statement last month saying details will be released in the "near future".

That is not good enough for former All Black and NZ Maori coach Billy Bush.

Asked about NZRU's handling of the NZ Maori, Mr Bush said: "You know my answer is that they're f***ing useless."

He said the New Zealand Rugby Union should hand the administration of the Maori side over to another entity and claimed the NZRU "does a lot more harm than good".

The Herald DigiPoll was undertaken between January 29 and February 10. It had a sample of 600 and a margin of error of +/- 4 per cent.

The NZRU did not initially give nzherald.co.nz a response to the poll, but its chief executive Steve Tew later issued a statement saying the organisation was very aware that rugby is important to New Zealanders.

"It's a game that helps define and bind our communities and is an incredibly important part of how New Zealand is portrayed internationally," he said.

"We are constantly dealing with decisions that affect the way the game is portrayed, how it affects people and balancing that with the way all the varied views of rugby people, are taken into account.

"Ultimately, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of ensuring the game remains strong and your poll may be an indication that people are reasonably happy with that."

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