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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has suggested the Government put its hand in its pocket and sponsor the national team to stop it going overseas. Was he serious or a bit cheeky? Adrian Seconi scoffs at the idea, while Steve Hepburn thinks it may have merit.
IT has been a restless and, at times, teary week.
It is hard to shake those pictures from your mind of the underpaid, underappreciated Kiwi battlers soldiering on and making do with a paltry $10,000 match fee.
Not since Sir John Key’s three-way handshake at the 2011 Rugby World Cup has there been so much outrage in the rugby community.
Until coach Steve Hansen revealed the horrifying truth, we’d all assumed the All Blacks were pampered, over-valued jocks who spend their days playing console games and talking in cliches.
How wrong we were. Turns out the All Blacks are on Skid Row compared with those who have pursued more lucrative playing deals overseas.
And those remaining loyal souls, who play for pocket money and love, want — no, need — Government funding otherwise they will all leave.
The problem cannot be solved by a trickle of donations to a Givealittle page or a quick whip-round. Supposedly, an unnamed French club is willing to pay All Blacks rock star first five-eighth Beauden Barrett $10 million for three years.
That’s a lot of halftime oranges. And perhaps Barrett will develop a taste for duck l’orange after the World Cup.
But here is why the Government should resist the very compelling case to top up New Zealand Rugby’s considerable coffers — someone else just as exciting will emerge.
Hands up if you thought Grant Fox was the best ever first-five? Did you change your mind when Andrew Mehrtens proved it was possible to actually run the ball from pivot?
What about the silky skills of Dan Carter when he carved up a hapless British and Irish Lions side in 2005?
And just last week, all of Canterbury thought Richie Mo’unga should have been wearing the No 10 on his back.
No-one is irreplaceable. And actually a Government handout would only disrupt a system which is working rather well.
It is a forced cull. The old fossils head overseas and are replaced by the next crop who are quickly adopted as the best ever by an amnesiac public.
The real problems exist at grassroots level. Clubs, which were once the backbone of the game, have been haemorrhaging members since the sport went professional in the mid 1990s.
That is where the focus should be.
Value for money
Yeah, it does seem a tad wrong that well paid — some would say vastly over paid — athletes should be paid by the Government.
But, and this is a big but, welcome to the real world.
Governments since the dawn of time have been picking and backing winners.
The Roman head honchos picked the best warriors to fight in the Colosseum, the communists bankrolled athletes to Olympic glory and hang on, didn’t we just give a billion dollars or so to the America’s Cup snooze fest?
We could sit here and list 100 dumb schemes the Government has put money into which have turned into complete white elephants — New Zealand On Air backing shows such as Melody Rules and Country GP. Novopay. Sheep farms in Saudi Arabia.
So how about pouring some money into something which is worthwhile? Something people actually care about. Our mighty men in black.
They make us proud for 14 weekends every year. They give us a buzz which is hard to buy and even harder to hang on to.
Last year, we had a tour by the British and Irish Lions which was estimated to have brought in nearly $200 million to the economy.
Do a cost-benefit analysis on that and even a Treasury buffoon would have to admit the All Blacks stack up as worthy investment.
The question too has to be asked why the powers that be put in upwards of $200 million over the four year Olympic cycle now treat an All Black request with such horror.
We back underachieving athletes like Glenn Snyders, any of our cross-country skiers and Toni Hodgkinson types, only for them to fall flat most of the time.
The All Blacks never do. They deliver all the time — well, apart from that 24-year World Cup drought — and make everyone happy.Hansen, though, is wise. He is playing the long game. He is not expecting a cheque overnight. He is just throwing it out there.
Planting the seed, as such. Now sit back and watch it grow.