This is an excerpt from an unpublished book, the DJ Years, about the 2011-12 views and experiences of the late forthright former All Black rugby captain John Graham, who passed away four years ago this month. This is the third in a series of articles from the book. Sir John was headmaster of Auckland Grammar School for 20 years, New Zealand cricket team manager, University of Auckland chancellor, business director and mentor.
Tāmaki Makaurau – The current New Zealand rugby playing model then does not cater adequately for the bulk of New Zealand rugby players.
We are not nurturing and ensuring a strong club and provincial base to maintain the community value of our game and produce future All Blacks.
This model does not fit with the need to pay in the professional game. There are simply too many competitions and academies competing for our players and financed by sponsors who demand international competition before they will part with their dollars.
Matches played at 7.30pm at night turn off large numbers of even our most avid rugby supporters. There are too many poor Super matches between teams which have little interest for New Zealanders and there too many repetitive internationals. Sadly, therefore: too much rugby altogether.
The Tri-nations internationals (before Argentina joined), for many of us, simply seem to be a smaller number of players who played against each other in Super colours doing the same again but in different jerseys at international level.
The rules have become far too technical and complex particularly at second phase. Spectators can seldom follow what the bent-arm free kicks and penalties are for such as diving over, sealing off, holding on, not through the gate, it goes on and on.
The game has become a stop start affair, particularly through the proliferation of minor rules. The variety of referee interpretation in this area causes immense confusion for the players.
What a way for 16 fit, strong athletes to go down into a scrum. As well, he emphasis on defence has led to the team without the ball lining up on the just back of the advantage line which leads to more second phase pile-ups.
The rules gurus need to make some radical changes to re-ignite the excitement for those who still attend games. Referees’ standards are variable and that is becoming a most serious issue.
It is unacceptable that referees are so protected that they are exempt from coaches, administrators and players commenting on their performances in a professional environment.
Theirs is not any easy job with such complicated rules. It would help if they became more vocal, off the field, and played major part in refining rules that can be managed with consistency.
I have always believed Super rugby does little for New Zealand rugby, except provide financial gain, and benefits only Australia who have no strong provincial rugby competition to compare with South Africa and New Zealand.
New Zealand rugby does not need Super rugby. Our administrators say NZ rugby needs the money Super rugby brings in, but the cost is too high if it is destroying our local wide-based club and provincial rugby.
Moreover, the hybrid teams chosen from a number of unions have never captured the constant support base from the rugby public.
Northland and North Harbour have never been comfortable partners with Auckland to form the Blues franchise for example.
Players move all around the country to gain a Super contract, break their provincial loyalties. Franchise parochialism has never approached the intensity of the old provincial allegiances pre-Super rugby.
What has happened is that crowd support has slowly dropped away from Super rugby and because leading professionals do not participate fully in or in some cases not at all, in the NPC competition, both competitions have lost support.
New Zealand arguably possessed the best conveyor belt in the world of players entering test rugby from our strong provincial national championship. It has been turned on its head to satisfy and cater for market forces.
Rugby is no longer the main sporting interest of large numbers of New Zealanders and this, on top of the alarming rate of departure overseas by young players and those senior players in their twilight years, all chasing lucrative contracts in Europe and Japan, has had a negative impact on our stock of very good players.
The rugby pool of players in the present environment gets smaller and impoverished, year by year. We should impose a hefty transfer fee on players if they go to an overseas club so New Zealand can use that money to grow at the grassroots.
Forget Super rugby in its current form, focus on the domestic club and provincial competition to prepare for the international season.
Otherwise, questions remain about systemic failure. Is our rugby being serviced in the best interests of the game within New Zealand?