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New Zealand's Catch 22

Roar Guru
14th October, 2007
10

onside writes: For many years New Zealand has tried to create the most successful rugby team in the world by recruiting elite youth from Pacific Island nations. The ‘catch 22’ is, so long as NZ continues recruiting Pacific Island youth, it can never be the best team in the world. This is because recruiting Pacific Island youth undermines the ability of Pacific Island nations to provide New Zealand with the one thing that would make NZ the best team in the world, regular, tough, passionate Pacific Island competition.

A paradigm shift in thinking is mandatory if rugby in both Australia (Aus) and New Zealand (NZ)
is to achieve full potential both on and off the park. The demise of Aus and NZ in the 2007 RWC
is a symptom of a greater malaise that some things that appear obvious ,like scrum flaws or mythological choking tags. Long term improved physical and financial performances by both Aus and NZ lie in making a serious commitment to the Pacific Island (PI) countries of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

In recent years NZ has cherry picked the rugby cream from PI nations, and then seamlessly blended the elite into the All Blacks. From a RWC standpoint this system has failed. On the one hand NZ has built the very best rugby team in the world, but on the other hand, many years of milking PI nations of their elite, simultaneously destroyed the indispensable pre-requisite for RWC success; regular hard high quality games against passionate opposition.

Aus likewise suffers similar consequences regarding its PI links, almost no fair dinkum opposition when it is most required. Or forced to travel half way round the globe for dodgy test matches, because either one side or the other is out of season.

In view of the enormous value of the All Black and Wallaby brands, comparatively very little money is reinvested in the PI rugby nursery, especially considering the huge contribution the PI region contributes to the rugby wealth of Aus and NZ.

Such is the rich depth of wealth and talent in NZ rugby it was widely accepted that NZ could easily have sent two equally talented teams to the RWC.Why then is it necessary to introduce PI talent into a NZ national team brimming with so much ability NZ could field two or maybe three world class teams. I do not refer to second or third generation NZ nationals of PI heritage,but the ongoing and constant recruitment of really talented PI youngsters.

Millions of dollars are invested in rugby in both Aus and NZ.Some of that money should be reinvested in Fiji ,Tonga and Samoa. I am not suggesting tokenism but elite training facilities for players, managers and development of support staff. Whatever it takes, a ten to twenty year program. This is not a far fetched idea but necessary to protect and build our rugby market.

Elite players should be encouraged to play for theitr own country. Perhaps adequately funded to make it happen.Neither Aus nor NZ should sign these players to their national teams.

The PI nations should be included in a competition comprising Aus ,NZ, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and maybe Japan (a ‘can do’ wealthy nation). The region should seriously consider cutting South Africa loose and rejigging the super 12/14 whatever, to include ALL PI nations, not just a rep side from the region.

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There must be some merit in ‘our’ own six nations, Aus, NZ, Japan, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. This geographical region is the epicentre of the most exciting style of rugby in the world. Aus and NZ need to give much more to the region. I am not talking about an elite school in Sydney or Auckland, with a new car thrown in for the family, but a paradigm shift in rugby management in the region that totally embraces the PI nations as strategic partners in ‘our’ region.

The bottom line would be the creation of desperately needed hard meaningful competition that the public would love.Tonga VS Waratahs or the Wallabies would fill the stadium as easily as playing Wales or Scotland.Most importantly the Wallabies and the All Blacks would be guaranteed regular really tough competition close to home, so vital for long term development.

What’s the point of always being the best team in the world if the methods used to achieve the goal ensure there is virtually no competition.

An old truism in sport is before you learn to win, you must firstly learn how to loose. To be successful at the RWC, NZ must give itself more chances to loose.

Invest in the Pacific Islands. The more powerful they become, the more successful both Australia and New Zealand will become.