Future’s not All Black for New Zealand rugby

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What would happen if New Zealand rugby was able to fund a fully professional domestic competition? What would the implications be for Australian rugby in particular, but also the Pacific Island unions?

An article I read this week led to this line of questioning. The article discussed New Zealand Rugby Union’s bid to increase global sponsorship (i.e. into the USA) of its flagship ‘brand’, the All Blacks, using its association with American insurers AIG.

There are plans to take the All Blacks name to the wider rugby/sporting world, earning the New Zealand Rugby Union more sponsorship dollars, primarily those of the greenback appearance.

I’m going to take a mental leap or two forward here. Imagine a fully cashed-up NPC with players earning a decent living at just the provincial level. These teams could travel to games by air, have the ability to host top notch live events and even say no to TV demands for night games to attract crowds.

What impact would such a scenario have on Australian rugby?

At first, second and possibly third glance, none. However, much closer scrutiny reveals there may be hidden benefits for Aussie rugby.

The emergence of a fully professional NPC in New Zealand could provide a useful ‘plan B’ for Australian rugby administrators wanting to create a third tier of completion. I view the proposed under 23 competition as a nice start but still inadequate.

If, and this is big, the New Zealand Rugby Union can cash up its NPC then it could allow the ARU to develop, not to mention keep, its top players by providing them with a lucrative and challenging pathway.

Okay, fellow Kiwis, settle down! Let me explain.

The AFL and NRL’s billion-dollar deals pose a problem for the New Zealand Rugby Union. These codes (and soccer, to a lesser extent) are increasingly eyeing their trans-Tasman neighbours and New Zealand is not such a big country/market that the New Zealand Rugby Union can afford to ignore such intrusions.

The Warriors have two rich owners (although Glenn Christie’s involvement still baffles me given he is a self-confessed rugby union man) and the AFL are making noises about jumping the ditch.

If the ARU cannot, or will not, start up a domestic NPC – the Australian Rugby Shield was the perfect development vehicle and the only true national sporting competition – then the players needs to take matters into their own hands.

At the very least, the New Zealand Rugby Union should set up a trans-Tasman player registry so if Aussie players want to play in the NPC, the New Zealand provinces will be able to pick them.

Look at Australian NPC alumni the likes of James Hilgendorf, Brock James, Peter Playford and new Waratah signing Peter Betham (who was apparently in the sights of New Zealand Super franchises and says he wants to return across the Tasman for this year’s competition).

Next time I will look at how Aussie teams could be assimilated into a Tasman Provincial Competition – TPC anyone?

What a year 2014 has been in rugby! From the highs of the Waratahs winning the Super Rugby title, to the lows of the infamous saga that swamped our national team. What are your reflections on the year that was? What's on your Christmas wishlist for next year? If you're feeling inspired, you can share it with other Roarers by submitting an article.
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