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Grassroots Rugby back on TV

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Grassroots Rugby back on the box

After what the French would call un passage a vide in April, Grassroots Rugby returns to New Zealand screens next week.

With it comes the old favourites such as Ben O’Brien-Leaf from East Coast/Poverty Bay, Jock Ross from Mid Canterbury, Chris Rawson from North Otago, Barry Townrow from Buller and Rowena Duncum from Wanganui and the south who will again help present some of the coverage of club rugby from the Far North to the Deep South.

The overall coverage will again be tied together by the original duo of Ian ‘Kamo’ Jones and Richard Mason. It offers a crucial antidote to the blanket coverage of All Blacks and Super Rugby which dominates most forms of media in this digital age.

SKY Sport will be picking up the naming rights and programme, which ran on its channels from 1999-2017 as Toyota Grassroots Rugby and in 2018 as Haati Grassroots Rugby, which screened on Maori Television and was then on-sold to SKY for replays.

Grassroots Rugby was the brainchild of Graham and Marie Veitch of Graham Veitch Television, a well-established production company. Both are still very much involved, with Denise Bell as the producer in her 14th season.

And yet less than two months ago, the show was destined for oblivion. Maori Television pulled out of the naming rights after only one season.

Graham Veitch worked his contacts and the end result was they “painlessly signed a three-year contract with SKY.”

Rest assured that Sky Sport Grassroots Rugby will follow its time-honoured format, screening weekly highlights of four or five club games from around New Zealand, with a large infusion of humour, historical insight and tales from real rugby people.

“This programme takes a stand that what goes on outside the white lines is just as important as what goes on inside the white lines. It’s about the stories, about all those photos the clubs have on their walls, all the old boys and the young kids,” says Veitch.

“I grew up in Waimate in South Canterbury and every Saturday we went down to Manchester Park, and we’d play rugby in the morning. It was cold as buggery but we’d hang around until the seniors played at 3pm.”

Some of the Grassroots Rugby highlights down the years have included an East Coast club player hitting rucks wearing an old pair of tracksuit pants and Poverty Bay rep Kahu Tamatea proposing to his fiancée on the show. They watched it together the next week. She said yes.

One of the offshoots from the show was Rugby News magazine’s Toyota Club of the Week, which ran to widespread acclaim from 2006-12.

“It’s a helluva lot of fun and it’s been a helluva journey to be part of,” says Veitch.

The first episode screens next Thursday at 7pm on SKY Sport 1. It will run until August, after which Mainfreight Rugby will again continue until October to cover the Heartland Championship.

The Short Ball:

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Grassroots Rugby back on the box