Saturday, 21 September 2013

Winners Are Grinners - State of NZ Domestic Rugby

Under the current systems, professional rugby in this country starts  in the middle of February and completes in the last week of October.  That for most players is an 8 month season.  SupeRugby can't be changed and shouldn't be, The International season can't be changed and it shouldn't be, but the ITM Cup can be changed and should be changed.  Why so?

The SupeRugby championship firstly gives a large number of New Zealand talent the ability to play in a top flight competition for a long period of time and many players are happy to ply their trade in that competition.  The competition itself is 95% ok, though the debate on whether the Conference system should stay is a volatile one dependent on which country you come from.  Personally just do away with it and have top six playing for a final.

And then we have the International window, touring teams and The Rugby Championship.  I have no issues with the amount of rugby at the top level though do ascribe to the theory rugby would be better off in this country should touring teams play midweek games against ITM Cup teams.  Those heady days when we oohed and ahhhed  when the likes of Hawkes Bay beat a touring team, or The Maori All Blacks defeated the Springboks (either might be wrong but you get the point) are long behind us but how easy would it be to do this.  As there is a window between SupeRugby and ITM Cup it should be easy to slot in at least three matches to appease the rugby public.

But I digress.  The ITM Cup.  The current format is not working and seems unworkable.  And this proposal affects the Heartland trophies too.  Return the formats to what they were (and what worked).  Currently there are two divisions (ITM Cup) and the ugly spectacle of  "crossover games" is not working to my way of thinking.  The ITM Cup should be played by 12 teams with no finals.  Yeah I hear you baulk! If the competition was a good one, then teams play knowing they are playing to win the competition, not the finals.  And that goes for relegation zoned teams (yes relegation).  The best team throughout the competition wins the ITM Cup, the worst team goes down a division.  And yes you didn't miss that either, I said 12 teams.  The two bottom teams in this years competition get relegated to 2nd Division (Meads Cup) and the following year the wooden spooner in ITM Cup gets automatic relegation and the Meads Cup winner gets automatic promotion to ITM Cup.  Reintroducing promotion/relegation between divisions (and yes wooden spooner Meads and Winner Lochore swap places) should put pressure on all unions to get the best out of their players, coaches and administration.  Currently there is no pressure on those affected unions as the status quo suggests they can just cruise without penalty or reward.

But how does this affect a season (remember currently 14 teams) that runs from Mid August to end of October? Well with the finals dropped and just 12 teams playing surprisingly the season lasts the same length.  The onus is on teams to front up day in and day out to both win the competition and avoid automatic relegation.  No playoffs for either. The formula is already a winning one and to be honest the tinkering the NZRU has done to this important piece of New Zealand rugby is tantamount to disaster and plain foolhardy.
Ok, maybe it's not that cut and dry, but it sure could be.  My main reason for this thinking was borne out when Manawatu won the Championship and had to play Hawkes Bay in a "final" even though they finished 4 clear points ahead.  They lost that game and missed on promotion to the premiership.  The question that raises is this.  If it's ok for that scenario to happen why don't the bottom two teams in the Premiership play of for relegation and why don't both winners play promotion/relegation.  Yeah you're right, it's too messy.  And the current state of the Domestic competition is too messy.  I'm not often given to harking back to the old days and do embrace change, but when that change is obviously flawed why not revert back.  I'm sure all players, administrators, coaching staff and the rugby following public would agree.

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