The titanic, a massive tragedy in the history of this world. To compare the state of NZ rugby and it’s slow decline is perhaps unworthy of this event however that is how I feel at present.
Given New Zealands unprecedented dominance in world rugby over the past years one could easily scoff and suggest I’m just an ignorant prat who never sees the glass half full. The All blacks having an 80% win rate over the last 4 years. Winning the Rugby world cup in 2011. Our Junior all blacks dominance at their world cups. A high performing 7’s team. These would suggest we are never sitting prettier. But I think these are just a facade. A cover up of the state of the game at the levels that help ensure the success at the top.
NZ rugby is like the best house on the street. Only when you look closely you notice the surface repair work done to cover up the cracks and problems. These can be covered up for only so long before they become so bad they are irrepairable.
With the advent of professional rugby NZ was always going to struggle. We don’t have the financial backing that comes with these larger countries. The main pull has always been the jersey itself and our proud history. It’s no suprise that many NZ’ers look overseas for rugby contracts. When you can play at a level in England that is equivalent to club rugby in NZ and get a house and cash per week to live on, why not go overseas and try your hand.
To take England as my basis as that is where I had most of my overseas experience at. Money is the main driving force behind English rugby. It’s riddled in the game and has been for some time, right from the top tier to way down the levels. From my time there it showed me a rugby culture where the rugby player is more interested in chasing the dollar rather than providing any loyalty to their team. One could argue that this is just today’s society. In the work place, loyatly to your company is now a thing of the past and employees are happy to jump ship at the drop of a hat. And vice versa where companies will lay off long term staff without a second thought. With rugby becoming more of a job these days, these kind of philosophies seem to have integrated themselves into the sport. A shame? YES indeed, but seems to be an inevitable evolution. My view of English rugby was that this dependance on money was the main force for why they will never dominate rugby on the world scene.
I don’t have access to the statistics of NZ rugby. The kind of information that tells you the number of people playing the game. The crowd attendances to matches. The viewing numbers or the money value of the products surrounding the game. What I do have is a view of the game at the school level 15 years ago, the club level 10 years ago and the now.
Back when I was playing in school, rugby was the main winter sport and cricket the main summer sport. These days schools are so divided in what they think is best for their students it is so easy for a student to take part in other activities or even worse, do none at all. Many schools these days also seem to go to the point of making sport a lesser priority over academic which I believe is wrong. They should both have EQUAL priority!
So, at the very roots of the game, the foundation that lays the skill base and interest in a person, the main difference I believe NZ has over many other countries, it’s watering down. The number of kids playing the game is dwindling. This is a huge impact on the future of the game as if we were ever to look at rectifying this it would take years to get back on track. Just as it’s taking years to degrade. I believe it started in the 90’s and has taken this long to get to where it is now!
In all of this, it doesn’t help our nanny state and the fact that kids these days are not interested in hard work and putting their body on the line for their mates. All core ingredients for a rugby player!
Club rugby! The next level up is starting to feel the pinch from the degrade in school levels. The number of clubs participating these days is much lower than that 10 years ago. This can only indicate that less people are playing. Although not everyone is good enough to make higher grades you need these other players to fill up the numbers and provide the support for the outstanding players to ply their trade.
NPC rugby! How many young kids are in this level these days? A while back you had to be exceptional to just be considered an npc player. These days they are scouted from school and you see a number of 19, 20 year olds plying their trade in the domestic competition. I really believe this doesn’t make them better players in the long term. They have not ever had to truely have an apprenticeship at club level. Play with other grounded rugby players. Have to sit in someones shadow and prove their worth. The kind of characteristics developed from these situations have gone into creating some of our best players. Work ethic, integrity, honesty and loyalty!
All black rugby. It’s still great sure. This will be the last thing to go. But with the feeding pond (school => club => NPC) shrinking it’s only a matter of time. We aren’t a big nation. Our one big asset was that rugby was a major sport and most young kids wanted to grow up and play the game. With this no longer being the case, I can see in the years to come the All Black jersey losing the appeal and respect it has earnt over generations. With that gone, say good buy to the monetary values it brings (big crowds, sponsorship, merchandise). With the money backing gone, we have less to keep players here, less to invest back into grass roots. I fear it’s a spiral we will never get out of!
A degrade in the school levels is feeding into club rugby. This is providing an effect on NPC level to Super rugby and leading into the All Blacks. Because of the deep chain, the effects at the highest level will take a while to be seen. But be seen it will. There is so much more that is going wrong with our rugby in NZ and I feel like I would write a book on it. But this is the core issue I see facing the powers that be today.
So, what can we do about it? Well I have some ideas. Of course these are just ideas and not founded on any information that would be needed to fully form them. However, for those I’ll leave to another day.