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

Auckland rugby losing Polynesian talent under central contracting

Charles Piutau of the Blues runs with the ball during the Super Rugby game against the Crusaders. Photo/Photosport
Charles Piutau of the Blues runs with the ball during the Super Rugby game against the Crusaders. Photo/Photosport

I reckon Auckland and Blues rugby have a race issue.

Well, that's one of my many theories, with Charles Piutau and now Steven Luatua deciding to fly the coop before their careers hit top gear.

Look at the similarities of those who have or are quitting New Zealand rugby before the job was done ... Francis Saili ... Frank Halai ... Charlie Faumuina ... Piutau ... Luatua.

Yes, Blues players and Polynesians. Something tells me something is very wrong.

And before you say that Faumuina is 30, compare his attitude to that of the 34-year-old Crusader prop Wyatt Crockett who is signed up until the end of next year.

"Canterbury, the Crusaders and the All Blacks have been my teams since day one," Crockett reckoned. "I can't imagine ever pulling on the jersey for any other teams, so I always knew that I would be playing out my rugby career here."

Luatua gave a fascinating glimpse of the cultural influences involved, when he talked about the desire to provide for his family and give the "next generation of Luatuas" better opportunities.

On the face of it, his decision to join a bum team at Bristol is absolutely nuts. It's like Adele singing with Yoko Ono.

It's like anybody singing with Yoko Ono.

And yet, he's gone and done it, and apparently All Blacks coach Steve Hansen didn't even get the chance to talk him around.

Yes, yes. We Aucklanders have to take some responsibility.

The Blues are a mess and have been for a while, but rugby HQ in Wellington and the central contract system is the real problem. They aren't on Auckland's page.

Hey look, this being Auckland, we'd probably stuff it up anyway.

But we'd like to stuff it up our way and get a chance to value players for what we think they are worth.

The thing is, Auckland is an international city. We don't like being run from Wellington.

We're funny like that, just like Manchester United wouldn't want to be run by a mob in London (or America, as it turned out) and the Green Bay Packers would rather blow up Lambeau Field than let a consortium in Chicago tell them what to do.

Call us old romantics. Call us whatever you like - and you do.

But until they give our rugby team back to us, we basically don't give a stuff about it and nor do a lot of the players quite clearly, I believe.

In the case of players like Piutau and Luatua, it would be so exciting if Auckland had the power to keep them, rather than rely on a central contract system based on All Black ratings.

To state the blindingly obvious, Steve Tew and his one-size-fits-all way of running the domestic scene hasn't worked in Auckland. So why do they keep running it the same way, when the major market is a major stuff-up?

Auckland has to play by everybody else's rules, instead of being allowed to act like a big city. We're an odd mob, but being a branch office - an out-of-favour-one at that - doesn't turn us on.

The Blues can't even keep a star player and current All Black in the prime of his young life away from a bog-standard English club. Next thing, the Bognor Regis Pebbles will announce they've got Rieko Ioane.

I'm quite prepared to play the race card or any other card that might explain what should be the unexplainable. It seems Old White Dude World down at rugby HQ hasn't got a clue about the largest Polynesian city in the world.

Yes, New Zealand, we're different up here. What's wrong with different?

When rugby was actually great in this country, Waikato and Christchurch and Wellington were the enemy. The thought of Wellington effectively running Auckland rugby makes me puke.

All we want is a flamboyant team that might win a title now and then, something that reflects the place we live in, rather than being the waste that spews out of a national crusade.

Silly us ... but that's us.

- NZ Herald

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