We're approaching the third week of Super Rugby and the bickering continues about the tournament.

Some All Blacks have been told to stand down or cut their playing minutes while others such as national captain Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock are restricted to training.

Forget about loyal or drive-by fans and television subscribers who buy into the premise they'll see the best New Zealand players going up against rivals from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan. They will see the top players but all in good time.

The World Cup in Japan at the end of the year is both the nirvana and a handbrake on the rest of the season. Every player in the wider All Blacks group is monitored to make sure his schedule is on a path to the tournament.


Playing minutes, medical checks, standdown games, rehab work, time for training camps — every detail is assessed and lined up against the targets for the World Cup.

We have been embroiled in that obsession since the All Blacks won the opening event in 1987 and then went through five chapters of heartache before winning the title again in 2011 and 2015.

World Cups require a massive amount of emotional and planning investment from New Zealand Rugby, the players and the public but those tentacles should not encroach or have a significant impact on the rest of the rugby season.

Sanzaar, the impersonal entity which runs the Super Rugby series, has struggled to deliver a robust tournament.

They tinker with the number of teams, the regions they want involved, conference or round-robin formats, the playoff systems and when games should be played.

While coaches bleat about the toll on players and a lack of preparation, administrators find more matches to put into the calendar. This year's series almost hits five months after the mid-February start and early July final.

If they shrank Super Rugby to fit into a tighter March-June window there would be greater significance on every game, squads would be more prepared, international players would be available and the tournament would be more attractive to audiences and commercial partners.

Super Rugby will always get a significant spectator uptake at home or at the park because it is the national sport but the tournament needs a facelift. Players and fans deserve a sharper series to go alongside the traditional excellence of the All Blacks.