Rugby set for seismic change?

Is this to be another rugby war?

Twenty-four years after Australian media magnates Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer went into battle for the rights to professional rugby, and the landscape changed forever, another flashpoint in the sport has arrived.

This time, there is no explicit line between warring parties, no rebels versus empire situation. This is the establishment, World Rugby, looking inwardly at how it can extract even more cash out of test rugby.

Let’s be clear: the meeting that was held in Los Angeles, that hotbed of rugby, last week between various leading figures was not about talent equalisation, or helping the Pacific Islands flourish, or growing the women’s game. It was about making more money.

A radical shake-up of the global rugby programme and the establishment of a "world league", involving the top dozen countries playing each other every year, is seen as a way to boost the coffers of unions and get rid of the widely loathed June international window.

Obviously, there is no point instantly dismissing ideas that could help raise cash to keep the superstars of the game happy. It has long been a fear in New Zealand, for example, that eventually the call of the yen or the euro will be too strong to keep All Black stars on home soil.

Some words of caution need to be sounded.

It is important that revenue does not become the only focus of the international rugby calendar. Sport, even a professional code, soon loses its appeal if that is the sole target, and when the fans go, the cash goes with them.

Test rugby is also a bit special. Will playing every major team every single year lead to boredom?

What about the World Cup? Such a league would invariably have an impact on the quadrennial cash cow of the sport.

Above all, let’s keep a critical eye on anything targeted primarily at making the rich richer.

If elite rugby prospers while the grassroots continue to wither, the game is in strife, and everybody will be the loser.


It is, to some, as much of an American mystery as the presence of Donald Trump in the White House, the appeal of Dr Pepper, and the popularity of various "thinkfluencers" on social media.

People chafe at the winning team being proclaimed "world champion" when the sport is only seriously played in one country. They struggle to understand the rules, and the stop-start nature of the action. They question why a 60-minute game has taken three hours.

You might be tempted to write off the Super Bowl as an irrelevance.

But to a growing sector of the sports community in this part of the world, the culmination of the American football season — lunchtime today, NZ time — is a highlight of the year.

It is an opportunity to be a part of what some consider the biggest single annual event in world sport, to join a global audience in the hundreds of millions, to marvel at the spectacle (while cringing at some of the rather gaudy displays of patriotism and military pride) and admire the skill of the players (while questioning what they are actually doing), to chow down on pizza and chicken wings and chips and feel as if you could be in the land of the free and obese.

The halftime show is an entertainment event in itself. Then there are the Super Bowl advertisements, costing businesses about $US5 million ($NZ7.2 million) for 30-second spots but worth every penny if they grab the world’s attention.

And, yes, there is a great sports story to be written either way. It’s the revived Los Angeles Rams (think the 2015 Highlanders) against the perennially present and widely loathed New England Patriots (think the Crusaders), and a coaching wunderkind (33-year-old Sean McVay, of the Rams) against a grizzled veteran tarred by various cheating scandals (66-year-old Bill Belichick).

Give the Super Bowl a chance. You might be surprised.

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