I’ve been writing on sportsfreak fairly regularly for around three years as ‘the Spotter’ and the thing that still pisses me off the most is our continued subjection to big Rugby clashes at night. The Crusaders-Highlanders match last Saturday was further evidence of why the NZRU should seriously consider the merits of at least a partial return to daytime major Rugby (ie. with a kick-off time of somewhere between 2-3pm).
The next time any further broadcasting contracts are up for renewal, this change really should be at the top of their list. It is a complete crock that we are ordered to stage night matches for the benefit of a UK audience. Most of them don’t even rate Super Rugby, in any case. This whole thing of pandering to their supposed wishes is just completely ludicrous and an absolute kick in the teeth to loyal Rugby fans here. There is presently a bit of a groundswell advocating for a time change. You would hope that for once that Rugby’s biggest stakeholders (the NZ public) are listened to. More on this ridiculousness soon. I digress for a minute…
I’ve always loved the Toyota Grassroots Rugby show and one of the best things about it is that they very often interview the old diggers of the clubs they go to. Are these old salts of the earth not the true royalty of our national game? Whether they are solely club members or who have also become prominent at provincial or even national levels of the game; they are the people who have basically lived and breathed their sport for most of their born days on this planet.
Should we not absolutely revere them? They leave me totally hanging on their every utterance. What a refreshing change not to hear a load of tired, banal or braindead clichés given in a televised Rugby interview for once. On this line, I will quite possibly lob a beer glass through the TV screen the next time I hear a participant say “At the end of the day”. Spare us.
In the latest episode to air of Grassroots, there was sprightly Cliff McAuley, ex-international referee (All Blacks vs Wallabies at Athletic Park, 1962, a 9-9 draw), now in his nineties and talking about his time as a referee. Mostly however it was about Cliff’s service to the Southern Rugby club in Dunedin over a continuous seventy-five year period (yes, you did read that right).
And the Otago water supply must be pretty damn good, because the oldest surviving All Black, Ron Elvidge (one of my favourite ABs of all-time), hails from the region and is 94 years young. Incidentally, there was a brilliant piece done on Elvidge by Andrew Alderson for the Herald on April 15 this year.
To change tack a now. Mud. I’m writing in defence of. And night scheduling. I’m on the attack. The Crusaders-Highlanders clash last weekend has seen this part of Rugby’s inner fabric get a right old rucking over. Will we only be truly happy when all top-line matches are played on a blend of artificial grass that isn’t too hard on the knees, inside giant greenhouses- sorry, indoor stadiums?
The issue should not really be about the somewhat labourious nature of that match at AMI Stadium in Addington, rather it lies in the fact the weather for night-time Rugby is almost always more desolate and downright cold than it would be for a daytime game. As a result viewing night Rugby in dreadful conditions is infinitely worse than a time that is five hours earlier. And in a stadium as spartan as the temporary AMI one is, it made for quite the shitty experience for the chilled-to-the-bone spectators.
That is the real gripe, surely. if you want to apportion blame for the so-called direness of that match, don’t carp about the state of the action itself. Blame the mercenary-driven nature of broadcasting deals and the earthquake for the spectators’ discomfort. In fact, blame Rugby played after dinnertime- to begin with, the night dew makes for about twice as many handling mistakes and therefore stoppages and resultant turgidity. You just wouldn’t get as nearly as many fumbles as in a day game. And don’t forget as well as the slippery ball when defending high kicks at night, the lights and the shadows just add to the overall fragility.
So, forget the nature of the game itself (what it highlighted was that this current generation of layers don’t have many clues on how to play an effective wet-weather game- Tony Brown indirectly admitted as such when he explained post-match that the whole game plan of the Highlanders is geared around getting quick, recycled ball out to players like Waisake Naholo). Rightly or wrongly, Carisbrook slogs through the forwards are ancient history. More so rightly probably, but Rugby is a WINTER sport. So what if the ground cuts up a bit now and again?
That all being said, it still leaves the point about a ‘spectacle’ befitting the ‘occasion’ for TV viewers. To answer that, does every game have to look like a Sevens/ Gaelic Football hybrid? I don’t want to see the same generic style of match over and over. In tough conditions it is fascinating to see who the smarter players are- the ones who can shift to their Plan B and adapt themselves suitably to the conditions at hand. THAT TO ME IS INTERESTING TO WATCH.
If the NZRU or SANZAAR really genuinely care about the overall experience for the live spectator, then they need to immediately cease from scheduling night rugby in cold cities at sub-standard stadiums. It’s not exactly rocket science. And, as I’ve said before and will continue to say until they get the message- give us back our bloody daytime Rugby…please.
Let me know your thoughts, email me, Paul Montague, on: firstname.lastname@example.org