Friday, March 23, 2018

A World Rugby Championship? Not a bad idea

Among the usual delights in the annual release of the New Zealand Rugby Almanack - the 2018 issue has just hit the bookstands -  is a noteworthy suggestion regarding the future of Test rugby by the editors.

Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill have suggested that the top 10 teams in the world should play annually to give some credence to World Rugby's rankings.

"Perhaps the time will come, sometime in the future, when consideration will be given for a merger of the northern hemisphere's Six Nations Championship and the southern hemisphere's four-nations Investec Rugby Championship," they said.

That would see each of the 10 nations playing each other, no final would be played but the nation scoring the most championship points after the round-robin would be declared the winner.

With all the talk of a global rugby season, it is something that could almost be achieved within the parameters played now.

In their respective championships, the sides could play each other once, four games could be played in the November window leaving the June window as the chance to complete the series, or to be the start of the next year's competition.

Such a scheme, without a final, would leave the Rugby World Cup as the ultimate prize every four years.

The editors also made their case for some changes to the sending off, or red carding, of players during Test matches.

"Red cards are rare but when issued the contest is defused. Two classic examples have occurred in internationals in recent years.

"At the 2011 World Cup, Welsh captain Sam Warburton was sent off in the 18th minute of Wales' semi-final clash with France. It was heart-breaking for the Welsh fans who had paid big money to be at Eden Park that day.

"In the second against the 2017 Lions the All Blacks played with 14 players for 56 minutes following the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams. The All Blacks struggled throughout the 65 (sic) minutes. Would the Lions have won the test, and consequently drawn the series, had the test been 15-a-side throughout? We doubt it.

"We would prefer to see even contests and players placed on report for post-match examination, rather than time wasted while officials study television replays before making their decisions. There are instances when a player completely loses control and deserves to be sent to the sideline, but couldn't they be replaced to continue the contest the public have paid to witness?" they said.

That's a sensible discussion point worthy of earnest consideration.

But here's one you won't see included in newspaper reviews, that is if they ever bother to review the Almanack.

The editors expressed their concerns over the loss of sports reporters from regional newspapers.

"While this has little impact in the major cities, it will severely cut the communication between sports and the followers of local sports. Several provincial unions will be hit hard. Some unions do run an efficient and up-to-date website, but many followers of rugby do not use computers.

"The success of local sportspersons and sports teams at national competitions, whether at primary school, secondary school, or senior level, feeds pride within the region. The coming months will be interesting to see how the affected provinces cope with no regular and knowledgeable reporter providing stories of local club and schools rugby and to what extent it impacts on spectator support at games.

"Newspapers have been a way of life to readers ever since the invention of the printing press. Sadly, in many regions sports enthusiasts have lost their connection with local sports," they said.

The traditional Five Players of the Year should find plenty of favour. They were Sam Cane, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Codie Taylor and Portia Woodman.

The Promising Players of the Year were: Matthew Johnson Jr (Southland), William Jordon (Tasman), Du Plessie Kirifi (Wellington), Vilimoni Koroi (Otago), Mike Tamoaieta (North Harbour).

The 2018 Rugby Almanack, Edited by Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill. Published by Mower.