New Zealand’s Super derbies produce a great standard of rugby but lack the intensity common in overseas sporting rivalries.

Last weekend was the ostensible rivalry round in the Kiwi conference of Super Rugby.

On consecutive nights, there were a couple of cracking games between geographic neighbours, featuring plenty of points, a red card, a sin-binning, a stunning comeback - and barely an ounce of animosity.

That's the simple reality of the professional game in New Zealand: the rugby is great but the rivalries are dead. Friday's match between the Chiefs and Blues and Saturday's clash between the Highlanders and Crusaders offered merely the latest reminder of that truth.

But does it matter? Do we need snarling and spite to enjoy Super Rugby? The games are already fierce enough and appointment viewing on both sides of the Tasman - more Australians watched the Crusaders shock the Highlanders than any of last weekend's fixtures involving their own franchises.


What would enmity add to an equation that is already over-flowing with intensity and ferocious in physicality?

Well, an answer to that question can be found by watching a Duke-University of North Carolina basketball game, or an Arsenal-Tottenham football game, or a Yankees-Red Sox baseball game.

Those fixtures would provide quality sport stripped of context; highly-skilled and evenly-matched professional teams tend to have that effect.

But with a little mutual loathing always simmering just below the surface, they become occasions that transcend the action on the field.

The game itself can be forgettable but still memorable, a contradiction made possible by the shared tradition of the teams in the middle and the sheer fervour in the stands.

Which is where a rivalry is really felt - not by the highly-paid mercenaries wearing the kit but the fans filling the seats. And that's where Super Rugby is worse for its lack of antagonism.

No Chiefs-Blues game is going to be circled on the calendar months in advance but that anticipation exists in all the match-ups mentioned above. The rivalry imbues the days leading up to a crunch encounter with excitement, nerves and even dread, buoyed by the lure of victory and fearful for the possibility of defeat.

Spurs supporters will shudder at the thought of going into work the day after a loss against Arsenal or, if they have especially vindictive colleagues, a loss against anyone, really.

Because while most Crusaders fans could hardly care less about the fortunes of the Highlanders - not until the playoffs, at least - a good rivalry makes a setback for the enemy almost as sweet as a triumph for your own side.

Now, that will always be difficult in this country. We are, generally, passive observers of sport, passionate but rarely willing to make a show of it, and totally lacking in the mass organisation that marks support in other sports.

Although some Hamiltonians would say they harbour ill will to those residing further up State Highway 1, they don't really mean it. And they certainly don't mean it about those Aucklanders wearing the Blues jersey, not when so many switch it for a black one later in the year.

That central focus on the All Blacks - for better or worse - has done more to kill the provincial rivalry than anything else. The players are mates and the fans would rather watch the national team win than an opposing Super Rugby team lose.

Which is fine. And, as we see whenever we're treated to a New Zealand derby, it certainly detracts little from the quality of product on the pitch.

But anyone who's listened to a "Yankees suck" chant reverberate around Fenway Park will be able to tell you that we're missing out.