Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A proper All Black Trial- and rethinking super rugby

Like many of my generation I remember All Black Trials with a nostalgic fondness. Part of the appeal was the clear delineation of the names of the teams- the Probables were the shadow All Blacks and the Possibles were those who might, if they played well, force the changes and make the All Blacks- even if only for the mid-week dirt-trackers if going on an overseas tour.
 Pre-Trial there was always the interest of playing selector drafting your own Possibles and Probables and then, post-game quickly drafting your own All Black team and ticking off the names as they were, always, ponderously read-out by some inarticulate official temporarily stunned to be the attention of a media scrum.
 Of course there was much less rugby in those days and rugby was local, provincial and not the second-tier international of Super Rugby.
 Yet there is something wrong with professional rugby when players can  effectively go through the motions for their secondary employer- the provincial franchises- secure in the belief that their primary employer- the NZRFU will pick them for the ABs. What complicates matters is the way that super rugby is not really professional in being an open market. To play for the ABs you must play in NZ and so  our professional rugby teams are effectively a closed shop of players -and increasingly a closed and limited shop of talent. The NZRFU is really the grand patriotic collectivist corporation and the super franchises are the shop-fronts for the collectivist brand and product.
 Yet consider an alternative: what if , to make the ABs a player had to play for any Super 15 franchise or play in the Japanese league? Ideally of course it would be any player playing professionally anywhere in the world but let's take things one step at a time. The problems with super rugby franchises is that they tend to draw on local- and national players- but if we consider English football, American football, baseball, basketball then players are highly mobile and teams are composed of players from all over the world.
If super rugby  was truly opened up then we would get global players playing a global game. Yes we might lose top players to high-paying clubs but not necessarily. Who players may choose to play with- and under - would become more variable. Super teams composed of a variety of players from around the world would be a sign of true professionalism; what we have at the moment is really professional provincialism- and rugby is suffering.
 So imagine an AB trial whereby players from across super rugby franchises and those in Japan are the pool to choose from. NZ players, by playing outside NZ and in combination with players from elsewhere will develop their game. Ideally we could call upon those playing in Europe as well and then rugby would be truly professional- and the AB trial would be completely meaningful.
 The support for the 6 nations championship puts our tri/now 4-nations often to shame; and the northern hemisphere-southern hemisphere season split means that northern players could come and play south for internationals. The way George Smith is playing is testament that good players playing outside the nation-state are more than capable of still representing their nation.
 So bring back the AB Trial- but only if super-rugby and NZ-representative criteria are reformed- and truly professionalised.

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