COMMENT:

My eight-year-old son, who is in his first season of tackle rugby, is playing his first night game tomorrow.

None of this will interest anyone apart from his parents, and those of his teammates, who are preparing to negotiate Auckland's Friday night traffic in order to get to the ground in a neighbouring suburb 30 minutes before the 5.45pm kick-off.

And neither, probably, will the last thing one of his coaches said to his team after they trained this week, something along the lines of: "We're going to be playing under the lights - just like the All Blacks do."

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But that remark struck a chord and it should at New Zealand Rugby headquarters, too, as the national organisation grapples with the increasingly worrying issue of our teenagers losing interest in the game.

Several unions, starting with North Harbour, are being proactive and progressive here by scrapping their representative teams below under-14 level in order to keep the focus of kids (and their parents) on rugby as a fun activity rather than a potential career path, but there is another factor staring us all in the face.

As far as Kiwi kids are concerned, the All Blacks only play at night. There are 16- and 17-year-olds who have been playing tackle rugby for eight or nine years who have never had the opportunity to watch their heroes play in New Zealand during the afternoon.

The last time it happened was during the 2011 World Cup, when the All Blacks played Canada in a pool game in Wellington. It was a 3.30pm kick-off. Before that, and I am sure I will be corrected if I haven't got this right, it was way back in 2000 when Wallabies skipper John Eales effectively won the Bledisloe Cup with the last kick of a test also held in Wellington.

The All Blacks perform the haka during the day in their pool A match against Canada at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport
The All Blacks perform the haka during the day in their pool A match against Canada at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport

So, All Blacks fans have been given the opportunity to watch their team do the haka and their thing in daylight in New Zealand twice in 19 years, and NZ Rugby wonder why kids have become disconnected from the game when they have played a major role in effectively denying them a major source of inspiration. What a terrible shame.

Everyone knows the reason why; broadcast partner Sky TV prefers to screen tests with 7.35pm kick-offs because they believe it's the optimum time for "eyeballs", both in New Zealand and overseas, and what they say effectively goes.

One of New Zealand Rugby's arguments in justification is that night tests are more convenient for supporters because they don't interfere with club and school matches during the day. But try selling that "convenience" to parents with young children who don't want to expose them to a cold and usually wet late night in proximity to people who have prepared for the occasion by drinking alcohol throughout the afternoon.

It's an argument that doesn't really stack up either way. I'm old enough to remember the sense of community afternoon tests created in the game. I still remember, as a 12-year-old preparing to run on for a game on the morning before an All Blacks test against France in Christchurch in 1984, and that all I could think about was that match rather than my own.

Afternoon tests did that – they were special events in every sense because they meant we had to structure our lives accordingly and that created excitement; now, they come and go in darkness when most kids under the age of 12 or 13 are in bed and none the wiser.

There is sunshine on the horizon, however, in the form of a 2.35pm kick-off for the All Blacks v Tonga test in Hamilton on September 7 – the last outing for Steve Hansen's men before the World Cup in Japan.

It goes without saying that the atmosphere will be unique. Much of it will be created by the Tongan fans and the test's proximity to the global tournament which kicks off a couple of weeks later, but I can almost guarantee the afternoon kick-off will play a major part.

More please, and soon before it's too late.