Jade Stadium, at Lancaster Park,
Friday 11/6/99, 7:35 pm.
I had had a niggling doubt before this match. I had decided against paying $30 for a terrace ticket and had opted for watching the game on Sky with friends.
I won't say anything about the match itself. It should be enough to say that we had a great conversation going throughout, on a wide and varied range of topics, occasionally straying into the rhelm of rugby.
But after the game, we were left with a strange, empty feeling! And at the centre of the feeling there was a huge open ended question mark!
Why was this game played?
How should we react to it?
And more importantly - Who should we have supported?
I would like to address these questions. But first, let us examine the facts.
No trial was needed due to the Super 12:- Every other year that I can remember, there has been an All Black trial, Probables vs Possibles, North vs South, but not in 1999. In this years Super 12 we saw extremes of team performance. Two excellent teams stood out, but many individuals had performances that shone out amongst the drab performance of their team. So it was actually possible to select a team based on the Super 12 this year.
This is what the All Black selectors had said that they would do, after 5 straight losses last year. What was really surprising about this years selection, was that the selectors, and the fans, idea of "form" finally coincided!
We needed a NZ A team to play the Samoans and French:- I am very old , so I can remember way back in the 1970s, All Black teams overseas (and sides touring New Zealand), they always played provincial sides. The only games against especially constructed teams where against "Barbarian" sides. Although important to win, these Barbarian games were always more about entertainment - you know fast, open, running rugby. The type of rugby that teams from Great Britain didn't normally play.
Then suddenly the All Blacks were faced for the first time with "selection" teams. These teams were made up of players nominally from the region, but usually stacked with a few test players. This is what we could call a "cunning plan", as it gave the host selectors a good chance to assess the Touring side, whilst the Touring side had very little knowledge of what they were facing.
Selection teams are all the rage these days, so New Zealand has joined in. It is actually a good idea this year, as the NPC isn't underway yet. A game against a International side is not a "real friendly" way to start the season.
The Sky contract with the NZRFU:- This document requires that 7 test matches be available for live screening on Sky this season. There was only one real problem with this, there are only 6 Test matches this season that can be screened during "prime time".
For some reason live test matches from South African, at 2:30 am don't generate as much advertising revenue as those screened at 7:30, or even 9:30 pm.
What a nation of Rugby watching Woosies we have turned into. I remember in my day, there were no repeat screenings. If you wanted to watch the test match in South Africa you got up at 2:30 am and watched it. In fact I can remember when there weren't instant replays. We can relax now in the knowledge that we may not only watch a game at a more respectable time, but that all the action will be re-played instantly for us. We are able to see tries from multiple angles and even in slow motion.
Of course we also get to listen to comments from Murray Mexted - but this is the price you pay for progress! (Sorry Murray, not for you being a tosser, just that I can't spell your name!)
So those are the facts Ladies and Gentlemen, and as you may have guessed, they answer the questions that I posed earlier.
Why was this game played? - The game was played to keep Sky television happy. It also gave Christchurch an All Black game this season, something that 22 thousand people certainly took advantage of.
How should we react to it? - The game was a practice for both the All Blacks and NZ A teams, to ensure that they were ready for their respective Internationals.
And as such it was quite entertaining, not worth $30 - 60 perhaps, but then Sky doesn't cost that much? yet!
Who should we have supported? - Any team that Scott Robertson plays a blinder for, is worth supporting - GO THE A'S!!!!!