Will New Zealand get to host a few matches of Australia's Rugby World Cup in 2003? We are all on tenterhooks.
It seems to me that we should just leave it to Australia. We can have our turn in 2011. For now, New Zealand needs to show that it can win the World Cup, and that it doesn't need home advantage to do so.
There are two issues that need to be brought into the discussion.
First, we should have noted by now that New Zealand teams have trouble winning night matches in Australia, whatever the sport. (Just ask the Kingz and the Warriors.) The exceptions are when New Zealand is touring Australia, or when New Zealand teams are returning, eg from South Africa.
The problem could be called jet lag, although it seems unreasonable to claim that New Zealand teams suffer worse jetlag when travelling from Auckland to Brisbane than they do when travelling from Johannesburg to Sydney. Perhaps we should just call it biorhythms, or the biological clock.
Two weeks ago an Auckland team flew to Brisbane on a Thursday, and played a Super-12 game of rugby on the Friday at 11pm Auckland time. They started OK, but, almost literally, fell asleep in the second half. In many other night games in Australia we have had problems in the second half. We are not designed to play such sports after midnight.
Night games in South Africa are not so bad. It's easier to play rugby at 8am (NZ time) than at midnight. Further, our teams, when in Africa, are given more time to adjust to the time change.
When New Zealand teams return from South Africa and play in Australia on the way home, it's as if they were playing at 10am. That's OK. We are often at our best at that time. We should insist on always playing our tri-series game against Australia on our return from Africa.
For South African teams, the game in Australia on the return home is inevitably a real killer. Their Super-12 teams get slaughtered every time that scenario is played out. Yet when the Springboks cross the Indian Ocean to play Australia, they usually win. They are less disadvantaged than we are, despite the greater distance.
If New Zealand plays its preliminary World Cup matches in Australia, it will (I believe) have no problem beating Australia in the final. If New Zealand plays its preliminary matches in New Zealand and then travels to Australia for the final or semi-final, it will probably lose that match to a team that has fully adapted to Australian time zones.
If New Zealand is still to host some games, the NZRFU should sell the quarter-finals back to the Australians, as well as the Eden Park semi- final. There is a good chance that the All Blacks could win a quarter-final match in Australia, despite playing at midnight NZ-time. By the time of the semi-final they will have fully adjusted to Australian time.
My second point is that we have to stop thinking of the World Cup as God, or rugby's Holy Grail. The World Cup is just another tournament; good to win, but not the only proof of the relative prowess of the different rugby-playing nations. The tri-series and the six-nations are just as important, as are the November matches between southern and northern hemisphere teams.
If the All Blacks come to treat every quadrennium as a campaign to win the next World Cup, then rugby will become like the America's Cup. All the teams will be foxing and throwing matches if it serves the greater purpose (winning the Grail) for them to do so.
So please, let us relax about the 2003 event. Our priority is to win it, not to deny the residents of Woomera the pleasure of watching Fiji play Zimbabwe. No worry aboout corporate boxes there.