Rugby: NZRU tries to allay Cup fears

Jock Hobbs
Jock Hobbs
A looming deadline for a decision on the future of Super rugby could help the New Zealand Rugby Union to resolve issues with disaffected provincial unions, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew believes.

Tew was speaking yesterday after the NZRU completed its annual meeting, which has been clouded by provincial unions warning of the destruction of the Air New Zealand Cup through player unavailability and spectator apathy.

Nine Air NZ Cup unions - those which are not Super 14 bases - had voiced worries over the future direction of New Zealand rugby, believing the national union was squeezing out the main provincial competition in favour of an expanded international Super 14.

They also said the Super 14 was a tired competition.

Tew said it was not time to panic over the future form of the Super 14.

Sanzar has to present a deal to its broadcasting partner by the end of June, and he rejected the suggestion it was running out of time.

He said in some ways having a deadline was an advantage, as it put pressure on parties to come up with a solution.

In 2005 (discussing expanding the Super 12 to Super 14) the process was also lengthy and slow, he said, but it did not play out in the public eye as much back then.

The issues were complex and difficult.

South Africa had suggested a staggered starting date for the competition, but Tew said the NZRU was not in favour of that.

The South Africans had also suggested putting back the start of their Currie Cup competition by about a month, but again the NZRU had reservations.

Tew hoped Sanzar could come up with the best competition in the world, which would maintain fans' interest.

"The reality of our sport... is that we are never going to come up with something that makes everyone and everybody happy."

He said the NZRU wanted to create an environment in which people could understand the decisions made were in the best interests of the game.

It had always been that way, he said.

Tew described the atmosphere at yesterday's annual meeting as vibrant, and said there had been plenty to discuss.

"We make no secret that these are very challenging times, not all of them which are rugby's making.
We are facing an economic crisis and rugby is not insulated from that."

Union chairman Jock Hobbs said he had met provincial chairmen and chief executives on Wednesday night and again yesterday, and felt progress had been made over their concerns.

Hobbs said the issue was not really about the expansion of the Super 14, more about the playing window given to the Air NZ Cup.

"I assured them we value our domestic competition and think it is extremely important... However, it needs to be sustainable," he said.

Hobbs said the national union wanted to protect a playing window for the provincial competition and had made that clear to its Sanzar partners.

The provincial unions had been given a full outline over playing windows.

There has been a concern in rugby circles the national domestic competition would be watered down and turned into a development competition, but Hobbs said there was still a debate over what the domestic competition would look like.

 

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