We are four days away from the start of Super Rugby and the harsh reality of Covid has taken hold across the Tasman, with a leading rugby writer’s bitter complaint for the state of the competition we are on the point of seeing.
New Zealand Herald rugby writer Gregor Paul has cast a veil over what should be a bright new dawn for the game, likening Super Rugby to the “punching-packed veteran boxer forced into the ring to keep going”. collect a paycheque”.
“Super Rugby kicks off this weekend, or probably will, and never has the sense of anticipation been lower,” Paul wrote on Tuesday.
“Even when the competition was full of undesirable teams and devoid of sabbatical All Blacks, there was always a lingering hope that it would all somehow ignite and produce some stories of the unexpected.
“But alas, what was once the greatest oval ball spectacle on the planet – a fast and furious and glamorous adventure through the most iconic rugby citadels in the southern hemisphere has been curtailed, for the next month, to a handful of teams kicking a ball around in the local park behind Four Square in Queenstown.”
The New Zealand and Moana Pasifika teams have been confined to a hub in Central Otago, with games missing fans as New Zealand struggles with Covid restrictions.
Already an outbreak has impacted the schedule, with the opener between Moana Pasifika and the Blues postponed due to positive tests. That leaves the Waratahs and Fiji Drua to kick off the competition on Friday night in Sydney.
As Paul argued, the situation is to get by rather than make waves in New Zealand, with NZR determined to satisfy broadcasters before anything else.
“For the next month, the mindset is that the show must go on,” he wrote. “Pick up dog shit and stray liquor cans thrown by underage drinkers and get 30 players – 30 players who produced a negative RAT test – there.
“That’s all that matters, because decamping to Queenstown is as much an exercise in saving time as it is in preserving income.
“To get their full broadcast costs, NZR needs to deliver not only the New Zealand component of Super Rugby, but also the trans-Tasman element.
“If too many games are canceled in the next few weeks there will be no time to ram them down later, so NZR is betting they can smash their national facilities from the relative safety of their Queenstown bio-bubble, at at that time, the Omicron wave may have reached its maximum.
Paul said he has sympathy for NZR, but the risks are high.
“To be fair to NZR, what else can they do?” Paul wrote. “They came up with a Super Rugby Pacific format that everyone loved and due to circumstances beyond their control they can no longer deliver as planned.
“But for all their tenacity in keeping the competition alive, they know, like everyone else, that it will take a miracle to ensure that it is not yet another year in which Super Rugby suffers prolific damage to the Brand.”
For all Paul bookings, the show will continue and with some adjustments to the rules this season.
At a press conference ahead of the new season, New Zealand rugby refereeing manager Bryce Lawrence and NZR high performance manager Mike Anthony revealed Australian teams had accepted the golden point to decide tied games, while dropping the captain’s challenge which proved controversial in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Last year.
The red card override rule returns, with World Rugby granting a waiver for the rule change to continue.
The captain’s challenge was not used in Super Rugby AU or TT last season but caused problems in the New Zealand-only competition.
This allowed captains to ask the referee (until failed) to refer to the TMO for an infraction before a try, or to review foul play.
In a sport already plagued by stoppages, this slowed them down even further.
The golden point overtime rule had been in Super Rugby Aotearoa for the past two years, but not in the trans-Tasman competition as the New Zealand and Australian unions could not agree on it.
But now, with a competition committee for Super Rugby Pacific, he has gone to vote and won support.
“We had complete consensus across all of our clubs,” Anthony said of the Kiwis’ view.
“Australia were really keen on a golden try. But we felt it could extend the game and use all 10 minutes [extra time] and potentially not get any result. And a little worry on our part [was] around teams playing negatively to nullify the try score.
The red card substitution rule, whereby a player sent off can be substituted after 20 minutes, has been applied to Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa for the past two seasons. World Rugby rejected him in their global trials, but he was brought into the Rugby League and remains for Super Rugby Pacific.
Other world trials such as goal line dropouts and 50-22 kicks remain.
Meanwhile, the AAP reports that after an unprecedented winless campaign last year, the Waratahs kicked off their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season on Friday night after an unbeaten try.
The mood in the camp from last year and now, after blowout wins over the Brumbies, Queensland Reds and combined opposition Shute Shield, is like chalk and cheese.
The Tahs are in no doubt that the trials and tribulations of the past year have helped them bounce back stronger.
“If you were in our locker room after a couple of our losses last year, you would know it’s not a very nice place,” Waratah tough guy Will Harris said on Tuesday.
“And pretty much everyone on our team was in those locker rooms and knows what it felt like and is really determined not to feel that way again.
“It’s not very pleasant.”
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As difficult as the last year was, Harris says the desperation and humiliation of defeat after defeat after defeat – for 13 matches in total – also built character.
“It’s a bit of a revenge story, isn’t it? Everyone’s blood is boiling after last year,” he said.
“Even though we weren’t getting results on the pitch and it was tough, the group stayed very tight, which is a credit to all the boys.
“There was no flaw in the group. We all stayed very close. There is a lot of love and we are all supporting each other at this time.
“As far as mindset changes go, it’s just nice to win a few games.
“Winning makes a big difference to me personally and I know the Waratahs as an organization it’s all about winning.
“Professional sport is about winning and we now have a few victories under our belt. These are just tests. We know it doesn’t mean anything and we don’t have any points on the board, but winning is a habit.
“Now we have a few on the board, hopefully that can continue.”
Harris says facing Fijian Drua at the Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta in the long-awaited debut for newcomers to the competition is a “privilege”.
“We haven’t won a game and we’re really excited to give our best this weekend and try to win our first Super Rugby game in a while,” the back rower said.
The Drua upset the Melbourne Rebels in their one and only trial last week to provide early justification for inclusion after completing a three-year apprenticeship in the National Rugby League.