The latest round of he-said, she-said between New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia has quickly become pointless, and arguments both in support and in defence have become predictably parochial.
Neither New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson nor Rugby Australia counterpart Andy Marinos will come out of this looking particularly good.
Unless of course a quick consensus is reached for the rest of the tournament. At the time of writing, there do appear to be wheels in motion, and we could well know more by the time you’re reading this.
But beyond this third Bledisloe Cup match and beyond the rest of the Rugby Championship is perhaps where the true extent of the fallout will be felt. This situation cannot lead to a terminal split.
Regardless of who communicated what to whom and when and regardless of what was agreed to and then abandoned, the trans-Tasman partnership between the bodies has – again – taken significant body blows.
Like Robinson, I was also asked to have a chat on radio station Newstalk ZB in New Zealand on Saturday, and host Jason Pine finished what had been an enjoyable conversation with a simple plea to Australian rugby fans: “Don’t hate us, mate! Don’t hate us!”.
It’s a bit awkward to quote myself, and I hope you’ll see the sense in doing this, but his question gave me the opportunity to make the one point about the trans-Tasman partnership I really wanted to make when the program got in touch on Friday afternoon to arrange the interview. It’s a point especially worth repeating now.
“I think the general feeling within [Australian rugby towards NZR] has been manifesting itself over the last few years,” I said.
“We saw New Zealand Rugby decide last year that, ‘We’ve actually had enough of Super Rugby as it currently stands, we think we need to go in a different direction’, and that’s prompted the set-up of the Aotearoa competition and what set up Super Rugby AU.
“Those competitions have worked quite well in a domestic setting, but I think what we all know is that neither Australia nor New Zealand can afford from a rugby sense, and from a rugby economics sense, to annoy each other to the point of one walking away.
“That ultimately hurts the game in both countries, and I’m sure that there will be a solution to this, but the whole idea of a partnership is that you work in conjunction with each other.
“It just doesn’t feel like the two national unions are working equally in conjunction with each other at the moment.”
And so while things will be worked out in some shape or form for the rest of the Rugby Championship, what happens when stakeholders on either side of the ditch return to the virtual table and try to thrash out the remaining details around whatever we’re going to call Super Rugby next year? This is even more crucial, with the 2022 format reportedly very close to resolution.
Can all stakeholders continue to finalise plans for a united domestic competition with the same levels of trust and willingness to work toward a common goal? Is the common goal still there?
This is the kind of unintended consequence often overlooked – or just not even considered – when these very short-term actions are taken.
Whether NZR’s decision to not travel to Perth was right or wrong is now immaterial, but you do have to wonder if they considered the flow-on impact of other ongoing discussions.
It was not quite a year ago that the RA chairman was pilloried for declaring “there is respect there, but the relationship is at probably the lowest ebb it’s ever been at”. And remember, he’d been in the job less than a year.
While there have certainly been improvements since last September, it’s probably not too big a stretch to see relations between RA and NZR are now right back at this point.
The big question now is what it will take – and how long it will take – for the relationship to be repaired to the point of either side being confident in their dealings with the other. Are things already agreed to suddenly in danger of unravelling again?
And who should be – or who needs to be – the bigger organisation and offer the first step towards conciliation?
Neither body really has any workable alternate solutions, no matter how far fetched they might be, and the reality remains that both countries need each other for many and varied but ultimately mutually beneficial reasons.
The one major benefit from this saga may be that the partnership is actually strengthened over time, and from there things like partnership agreements can become properly formalised and even binding.
If it results in the creation of a formal commission-style body to oversee Super Rugby, particularly with the inclusion of members representing the clubs, then that won’t be a bad thing at all.
But that’s now up to New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia to work out among themselves. And sooner rather than later.
Because the domestic game in both countries depends on it.