Having watched the conclusion of the Mitre 10 Cup over the weekend, I've had reinforced to me again just how important the competition is to New Zealand rugby.

I spent a few days with George Gregan and fellow Fox commentator Phil Kearns in Auckland before and after the latest All Blacks v Wallabies test and their comments about our provincial competition brought home how we really are the envy of the rugby world.

We should take heart in that and the fact that the Ranfurly Shield still provides the passion and drama it has always been associated with.

When we got down to the nitty gritty of the finals, we got great crowds and excellent rugby, but we have to be careful how we manage this competition; we must stop using it as an experiment.


In the past couple of years the provincial teams have been used as guinea pigs and we saw a negative effect this year with the new ruck law variations. They were farcical, and, given they were halted before the competition finished, the powers-that-be thought so too.

They had a detrimental effect on the competition. We still saw high-quality skills and entertaining rugby - the way the game here is supposed to be played - but the law variations had a negative effect on players in promoting their chances at Super Rugby level. The law variations eliminated the contest at the breakdown and a lot of players' strengths.

The loose forwards, in particular, suffered; the out and out fetchers, who make it their speciality to effect turnovers, smash rucks and speed the ball up or down depending on whether their side has it or not.

For those players to not to have the opportunity to promote their skills in front of the Super Rugby coaches was a real shame and the Mitre 10 Cup suffered for it.

Provincial competition over, we move back to international rugby this weekend. I'm on my way to Chicago as I write this and I'm looking forward to an interesting week there watching the All Blacks and also the New Zealand Maori. The All Blacks selectors will no doubt be watching the Maori match against the USA, so those players have the chance to impress, as does their opposition's new coach, former All Blacks coach John Mitchell.

For the test, there is no home town advantage for either the All Blacks or Ireland, which is unusual in the modern game, but it's something we're seeing more of.

Argentina recently played Australia at Twickenham, and the All Blacks have played the Wallabies in Hong Kong and Japan.

I'm fascinated as to where the support lies - I'm told a lot of Irish live in Chicago - and what sort of environment Soldier Field offers up to two high-quality teams.