COMMENT: Any Given Wednesday
Oh wait, look… it's another rugby review!
With bated breath we await the end of June 2020, not for a potential move back to alert level zero, but for the launch of "Aratipu", which might sound like the new Cook Strait ferry but is in fact a radical repositioning of Super Rugby in the national sporting ecosphere – or probably nothing of the sort.
Yes, rugby had itself reviewed and came to the conclusion that what it needed more than anything else was another review.
Set alongside the recent Review of Rugby, a polyonymous piece of work more sexily referred to as the McKinsey Report, last year's Secondary School's Rugby Review and 2017's Respect and Responsibility Review, Aratipu looks set to establish New Zealand Rugby as the country's elite House of Review. If Mark Robinson's pitch for CEO was based upon a promise to stakeholders that he would uphold New Zealand Rugby's legacy of commissioning reports, he has assumed the role with alacrity.
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The scope of the latest review is broad, even if the named reviewers are depressingly narrow – the five franchise chairs, Robinson and NZR chairman Brent Impey, and that hardy annual of sports administration, Liz Dawson – with risk managers rather than risk takers the order of the day.
They will be tasked with the "growing, regeneration and invigoration" of Super Rugby, a kind of back-to-front, contradictory word salad of a goal to which even the most dispassionate of observers could say: "Wasn't it the 'growing' part that led Super Rugby to the shambles it is now?
Super Rugby has in fact been a 25-year living, almost-breathing review. The relatively early years of stability aside, it has been a formless mess of "innovations" and iterations.
In terms of a report card, it could be graded as such:
Super 12 (1996-2005) – Brave idea with obvious logistical challenges.
Super 14 (2006-10) – An obvious idea, with expansion into West Australia marred by an unnecessary inclusion of another South African franchise.
Super 15 (2011-15) – A routine idea about expansion into Melbourne ruined by the first of the seemingly impenetrable conference formats.
Super Rugby (2016-17) – The jump-the-shark idea where competition grew to 18 teams and added two more countries – Japan and Argentina – and time zones into the mix. How this ever went from a thought in a bored administrator's brain to an actual reality remains one of the 21st century's great mysteries, up there with the popularity of Gangnam Style and the meaning of quantum entanglement.
Super Rugby (2017-Covid-19) – The too-little-too-late walking back of a really bad idea, idea.
Don Mackinnon, Blues chairman and another staple of the New Zealand sports administration scene, said: "The scope of Aratipu will include the New Zealand Super Rugby competition (local and offshore), clarify Super Rugby's role in the domestic high-performance pathway, review the ownership and equity structure, and digital rights. We will consult widely and think broadly."
Again, this is all, to use a term popular in rugby clubrooms, a bit a***-about-face. The people who matter have already been consulted and they have answered with their feet and their TV remotes. The conclusion is remarkably simple: Super Rugby is rooted.
This is the not the time for Aratipu. It sure as hell isn't time for "growing, regeneration and invigoration".
It is time for disengaging, dismantling and reinvention. We don't need to wait until the end of June to realise that.