Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: 'Naki link-up test for Chiefs

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Taranaki RFU chairman Lindsay Thomson (right) at today's announcement with NZRU boss Steve Tew (left),  Chiefs' ceo Andrew Flexman and chairman  Dallas Fisher.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Taranaki RFU chairman Lindsay Thomson (right) at today's announcement with NZRU boss Steve Tew (left), Chiefs' ceo Andrew Flexman and chairman Dallas Fisher. Photo / Christine Cornege

Rugby is a game well suited to the application of physics - a good big man will always beat a good little man has been a guiding principle for about as long as the ball has been oval.

In the case of Taranaki's switching of allegiance from the Hurricanes to the Chiefs, here's another equation - for every action there is a reaction. The decision to change, mooted long ago but only confirmed yesterday, appears to be good business sense, and yet it comes with strings attached.

Fed up with being given short shrift by the Hurricanes, who allocated what amounted to second-rate South African teams to New Plymouth every second year, the Taranaki union has voted with its wallet, effectively buying a share of the Chiefs' licence for the next seven years.

As a result they have been awarded the plum tie of the Chiefs versus the Blues at Yarrow Stadium on May 9, and will host another big one in the Chiefs versus the Waratahs three weeks later. They will get another two games in 2015, before, no doubt, the various bosses get around the table to discuss the fixture list for the next couple of seasons.

Here's where it could get a little sticky, because Taranaki, an ambitious and relatively well-off ITM Cup Premiership union, adds a new dimension to what has become, from the outside looking in anyway, a close franchise (winning consecutive titles tends to help foster a certain goodwill too).

The challenge for Chiefs boss Andrew Flexman will be to keep the various factions in check. Taranaki and Waikato share a dairy farming heritage but also a rivalry.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew admitted that yesterday when saying: "We carefully weighed up the involvement of Taranaki Rugby in this and were mindful of some fans' loyalty to the Hurricanes as well as some fans' unease in Waikato."

The Chiefs are now made up of three Premiership unions, with Counties-Manukau making up the trio. Bay of Plenty was this year before being relegated to the Championship - a defeat to Waikato the final nail in the coffin. Every other New Zealand franchise is dominated by a single union, which means it acts less like a democracy and more like a dictatorship.

For the Chiefs to keep running smoothly, the game of politics is going to be increasingly important.

The big loser in this arrangement appears to be Bay of Plenty, who will almost definitely lose their fixture at Baypark Stadium. Unfortunately for them it would have been a relatively easy decision to make by the Chiefs' board. The pitch in this season's Chiefs v Blues match was substandard and the facilities have long been below par.

It doesn't take long for supporters in the regions to get turned off. Some Hawkes Bay fans have a greater affinity with the Crusaders than the Hurricanes through the decision by the Christchurch franchise to hold games at McLean Park in 2011 and last year, plus the presence of local boys Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford in their line-up.

Some in Taranaki will continue to support the Hurricanes. The challenge for the Chiefs isn't to convert them, but to retain the fans in Counties and the Bay of Plenty, particularly if they lose out to New Plymouth for hosting rights.

- NZ Herald

Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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