The first two Bledisloe Cup games of 2020 will be played on consecutive Sunday afternoons after New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia reached an agreement on the fixture details for the two Tests.
The recent outburst by World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot with regard to the Sonny Bill Williams suspension reversal seemed a little odd given that this was a World Rugby-appointed independent council enforcing World Rugby-written and owned regulations.
So why the very public show of petulance from Mr Pichot?
The Tin Foil Hat Conspiracy argues that New Zealand rugby’s current dominance is bad for rugby, its potential sponsorship deals, ticket sales, advertising revenue streams and the general expansion of the game.
One needs only to reference the slide in the public’s rugby union in Australia during the current Bledisloe drought to quantify the impact that an ongoing decreasing hope of winning can do a rugby community.
As we begin the run into Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, Mr Pichot has perhaps recognised this as an issue, and that maximising revenue streams, where the current favourites have won the last two tournaments and only lost four games since 2013, is going to be an issue.
With New Zealand at odds of $2 for the Rugby World Cup, $1.14 for the upcoming Rugby Championship, and $1.04 for the Bledisloe Cup, this potential issue is evident.
How does World Rugby then interest the world’s corporate community in investing in a product when the smallest major rugby nation with a limited consumer market is the red-hot favourite?
While the conspiracy stops short of suggesting direct action is being taken, a tongue-in-cheek deep dive would suggest that World Rugby is going to use its influence to stop the New Zealand rugby train wherever possible.
Williams’ original suspension was for four weeks, although this was quickly altered to seven weeks when it was realised that Bledisloe 1 fell out of this original suspension window.
2. Appointment of referees
This year the Bledisloe refereeing panel is being as subtle as a sledge hammer. Of the four games the All Blacks have lost since 2013, the referees have been Wayne Barnes twice, Jerome Garces and Mathieu Reynal.
So – based on this – if you’re looking for a refereeing duo that the All Blacks have historically struggled to dominate their opposition so easily under, a Barnes and Garces combo would be the ideal combination.
And this is what we have scheduled.
3. Dunedin as the venue for New Zealand’s single Bledisloe Test this year
Why hold this game at a venue that will clearly favour the visitors?
It is a relatively small venue compared to Auckland and Wellington, the rugby crowd is reserved, polite and extremely welcoming given there are not a whole lot of foreign visitors to the region. Hardly the hotbed you want an opposition walking into.
Surely the fortress of Eden Park would be the better option. The All Blacks have a great winning record there and are guaranteed a large crowd through the gate, all of them rabid and annoyed, not only with the difficulty of getting in and out of a stadium stupidly situated in a residential suburb, but Auckland attendees will likely to be looking to share their building bile at soon to be rising interest rates and the spectre of negative equity that eats away at each of them every day.
One has to wonder who has influenced this venue decision.
If like me you’ve got your tin foil hat on, then it’s clear between now and Rugby World Cup 2019 that many a hurdle will be placed in front of New Zealand. I trust the global rugby community will rally behind the All Blacks in an international show of solidarity… or not.