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March 24, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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Rugby Aotearoa – It will get better

A wee while back, in a city known as Cardiff, our national sporting team fucked up. After years of planning, an undisclosed sum of money that probably sits between $30-$40 million, a cotton wool club and some bullshit about rotations the All Blacks still didn’t have a player who could dropkick us into the semifinal of the World Cup.

You would be forgiven for turning off your TV right there and then, going outside, screaming obscenities at the top of your lungs and vowing to never watch rugby again.

To pour salt into the wound the NZRFU decided to retain the coaching services of Graham Henry later that year. Why they continue to employ a guy, who along with his chums Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, engineered our worst ever placing in a World Cup, caused the loss of the Super 14 title from its rightful home and butchered the NPC, is beyond logic.

It was an unfathomable choice to not pick Robbie Deans. Even I, a blue-blooded Aucklander with a distaste for the red jersey, could see that Rob was the best man for the job. Unlike Henry who is a getting on a bit, Deans is young and fresh. He has a better record in Super rugby than Henry, and is unencumbered by failure. Deans should have smoked in like a Howlett on a drunken rampage.

Fast forward to early February and the sporting gods knew just how to ease us all back into a more accepting mood. Sevens has been becoming a hot favourite in the social calendar for some years and the Wellington stage of the tournament was a cracker, not only producing a thrilling final, but also showcasing the best young talent we have today. Wellingtons very own star Victor Vito is will be back on home soil for the NPC after a few more outings in the Sevens shirt.

With the last cricket test done with, and daylight savings extending all the way into March, expect a hit of winter faster than usual, and rugby will fill your screens. Round 7 of the competition this week is the Hurricanes vs Crusaders at the Cake Tin, and is not to be missed. The game against the Sharks the following week should prove to be a ripper.

SANZAR, the body that runs the Super 14 and the Tri Nations, have learnt a thing or two from the France campaign even if the NZRFU didn’t. Finally the ball is rolling to get Argentina into an international format. The Pumas placed third in last year’s Cup and look to be the business when it comes to the engine room up front. Having them in a Tri Nations competition would mix things up nicely.

Experimental Law Variations or ELVs are a change in the rules that reduce stoppages, and attempt to speed up the tempo of the game. So far this year it has been used with mixed effect. The ‘canes are currently sitting in third place, with a bye last weekend, and have started to find their feet when it comes to the new rules.

Though the most intriguing event might not even take place on the field. The battle between Henry and Deans is going to massive. No doubt Deans, with his middle finger firmly raised towards New Zealand rugby, will produce the magic he is renowned for with the Crusaders, only this time for Australia. Cast an eye over the Western Force to see where he might be scouting for fresh talent.

Interestingly the ANZAC rugby boards have decided to play a fourth Bledisloe match in Hong Kong before the Northern Hemisphere tour late in the year. They have spun the line that it is in the interests of the global game to break into the Asian market, both unions having seen what the LA Galaxy did in Sydney and Wellington for regional football. Cynics have been quick to scotch the idea, saying that it is all a revenue gathering exercise.

The game itself will be the biggest beneficiary of any moves to open up an Asian market. If there’s anything we are good at, it’s producing top rugby players, and if we need some help we can go over to the Islands and benefit us all.

So if you’re disillusioned with the game and don’t think you can muster the energy to watch rugby again, just remember that beer and pizza goes better when watching rugby with your mates during cold winter nights than watching a crappy DVD. If you’re still not convinced: Don’t worry, the League is on.

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