Open Letter to the NZRU
It might seem that you are in a tough position, with a limited window in which to fit a vital competition, a competition that is just starting to develop into all that it should be, and still at risk of being killed off by being once again uprooted. What is now required is some new thinking. “Innovation” in your-speak. The public are crying out for it.
I have a plan. You can save your competition, save the teams involved, save the revival of provincial and domestic rugby, and fundamentally improve the Air New Zealand Cup. Take a moment to hear me out, my plan has many positives, with little, if any, loss.
Competitions with playoffs, finals series, and similar post-seasons, cheapen the importance of the season that precedes them. The knock out champion is regarded the winner, whereas the top qualifier is just a top qualifier, and nothing more. Without the distraction of a post-season, the season takes precedence, and gains a new level of importance and interest.
Rather than abandoning some of our most storied and proud unions to a substandard competition, the playoffs could be removed from the Air New Zealand Cup. I realise that these are the “show-pieces” of the Air New Zealand Cup, but without playoffs, the vital games will occur throughout the season, and games could have added interest to supporters of teams not playing, through implications in terms of rankings.
Money. Yes, I know there is money involved. And I realise that the removal of your “show-pieces” will also remove a source of income. But really, this provides income to the few unions that make the playoffs, and to the NZRU, who should not be using the Air New Zealand Cup to turn a profit. It should be about developing our players, and fostering the love of the game. That love will pay off, in increased interest in other rugby competitions. Not to mention the possible pay off of increased interest in the regular season games of the competition itself. Those regular season games, and there are many more of them than the three of the current play offs, so even a small increase in value of these games will pay off many times over. In any case, surely the income from Air New Zealand Cup playoffs is a drop in a large All Blacks and Super Rugby cashflow bucket.
Simply by removing two weeks of playoff rugby, this leaves room for two extra teams in the competition, without making the competition any longer. For the small cost of two extra weeks to the Air New Zealand Cup, we could save all the teams.
There will be games that are “dead rubbers”, as in any competition, but I would suggest that this would be less so than during a regular season leading into playoffs. Teams that cannot qualify for the playoffs have less incentive to climb the league ladder as they would in a competition that puts all the focus on the season finishing position. A team in sixth without prospect of making the playoffs will not want to fall further down the rankings, but a team in sixth in a competition without playoffs will have greater incentive to battle for each position, not just trying to place well amongst the “also-rans”.
There is also the benefit that the whole season’s performance is what decides the champion and other positions. We don’t get the farcical result of a team just managing to qualify for playoffs, suddenly joined by a contingent of All Blacks, able to deal to a team that has worked hard all year long to qualify at the top of the competition (thankfully at the moment, Canterbury can play the season and the post-season with similar dominance).
We already have a competition without a post-season in New Zealand rugby, being the tri-nations. The five-nations in the Northern Hemisphere has a similar set up. Then there are all the great football (soccer) competitions of the world, some of the most impassioned competitions in the sporting world. In such a traditional sporting competition as provincial New Zealand rugby, the football (soccer) approach is far more appropriate than the artificiality and hype of the North American sporting competitions. We have Super Rugby to fill the latter role.
A Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand