Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

NZ Rugby seeking better share of season spoils

New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew. Photo / Nick Reed
New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew. Photo / Nick Reed

Having failed to see any change to the dreaded season structure for the better part of 15 years, New Zealand Rugby has refused to schedule any tests beyond 2019.

It's a tough rather than threatening stance but the message is clear - New Zealand is telling World Rugby that it needs to come up with a better way of organising the test season and deliver an equitable financial model to split the proceeds.

How the season is structured has long been a source of contention and debate - with several failed attempts to unify or at least better align the Northern and Southern Hemisphere calendars.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew revealed the tough new stance on season structure as he announced that the national body had lost $463,000 in 2015.

That figure, which was slightly better than expected, illustrated how reliant New Zealand Rugby is on this antiquated system of test match allocations and ticket revenue.

Reduced to only being able to host two tests last year because of the Rugby World Cup, the national body would have been staring at a significantly larger loss had it not been for a compensation payment from World Rugby.

This desire for change is driven by the unanimous conviction among the world's leading rugby nations that the existing system is riddled with problems - not the least of which is the difficulties that present in World Cup year when fewer tests can be played outside of the tournament. The other problems are that the season is deemed by the players to be too long and leaves them with an inadequate system.

The June window often fails to excite as Northern Hemisphere sides are typically battered and bruised by their longer domestic seasons and often send weakened sides that don't have the ability to compete.

Those tests also cut into Super Rugby and leave it hanging at the most inopportune time.
New Zealand keeps all the ticket revenue from the June tests - and in return the Northern Hemisphere sides keep what they generate in November.

New Zealand's gripe with that is the All Blacks are not fairly compensated for their influence and commercial impact. Stadiums such as Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium sell out for All Blacks' tests in November, but don't often when the opposition is Australia or South Africa.

The last curious flaw in the system is that World Rugby controls the June and November fixtures - deciding years in advance who will play who.

"We need a different season structure to the one we have now and we are not going to default to the current one if we can't find one. We are going to force that issue," says Tew. "If people are not getting to the table then we will negotiate individual matches for 2020, which wouldn't be all bad for a short period of time.

"The reality is that we have agreed a national programme until the 2019 World Cup. After that nothing has been agreed and without wanting to be inflammatory, we have simply said that we need to have an agreement that ticks a few boxes.

"Player welfare is very high on the list and the primacy of international rugby is really important and we are saying that we need to come to an agreement that makes some improvements for everyone involved."

Tew says that World Rugby is researching a number of proposals to reshape the season but the complexity of the project is such that a resolution is not expected any time soon.

- NZ Herald

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