When the NPC is strong……
The ITM Cup (better known as the NPC) starts this week. Here’s ten ways Sportsfreak thinks the NZRFU can make it better than the slow, painful death it is currently dying:
1. Two words “more day time Rugby” (or is that four?). Doesn’t matter, its warmer, more family friendly and you get a way better game (or “product” as the boffins from the NZRFU colouring in department call it). Forget scheduling clashes and TV continuity, play the majority of games at 2.30pm on a sunny Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon. The Sky paymasters can have their 2 games a week at 7.30pm (maximum) when the ball is wet and slippery and everyone’s rugged up at home so they can run their ads and make their money.
2. Start the Club Rugby season one month later and have club games as “Curtain Raisers”. The club rugby season has effectively finished by now but what better way to kick off games and add extra local interest than by giving your average Joe the thrill of playing in the early game for their Senior B, C or Colts team. Even better, schedule some 1st XV stuff early so more people have incentive to get along and watch.
3. Have a regions based club champions FA Cup-style knock out comp to run alongside the ITM Cup. The club rugby season starts at least a month too early across NZ so this would nicely fill the void most grassroots players are feeling now. Games would be played as curtain raisers and Steve Tew can get the Gorse out of his pockets to help fund it.
4. Move games to smaller stadiums. Don’t tell me about TV screening issues – this works perfectly for the massively popular 1st XV games that Sky plays on its pay-per-view arm – the Rugby Channel. The Wellington Lions playing at the Hutt Rec or Porirua Park or Auckland playing out West or in Manukau would create atmosphere that simply doesn’t exist when they play in their massive stadiums with 5,000 people present. If the Sky commentary team can’t make it up a scaffold to call it maybe it’s time think of a career change?
5. Black out the live Sky coverage in the City the Televised game is played in. If people don’t want to go they can catch the Sky replay later that evening (or at least 10 times during the following week). This model works well in a number of different sports all around the world.
6. Ditch the current Crossover game fiasco. Seriously, who thought of this schemozzle? Teams choosing who they play, Championship, Premiership teams ?! How about a round robin comp where everyone plays each other once, Semis and a Finals weekend. It’s not that hard is it?
7. Promotion/Relegation. Watch the back end of the EPL and you will see more passion and tears as teams scramble to stay up. This works in most Club Rugby competitions across NZ so why not extend it to the NPC? The bottom team each year goes to the excellent Heartland Competition and the Heartland Competition winner comes up. It’s worked before and it can again.
8. I could almost live with an Aussie (provincial) team or two in it to add some colour, spectacle and a much needed cash injection to this great competition. The NZRFU have tried every other whacky idea (remember the 2011 comp ?) so why not try it?
9. Release more All Blacks to play. The AB’s have a bloated squad of at least 30 for the Rugby Championship. Any player not named in the 23 must be released play in the NPC. No excuses – there are plenty of local players who are quite adept and holding tackling bags and acting as cannon fodder during training.
10. Stop calling it the ITM Cup. I know they are a great sponsor buts it’s the NATIONAL PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP OR NPC !
11. Yes I know it says 10 things but one other thing – DON’T YOU DARE BUGGAR AROUND WITH THE RANFURLY SHIELD MR TEW – WE ALL KNOW YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT IT !