NZR's PR spin won't save face in sad day for Pacific rugby
The Tongan bloodbath fans were treated to at Mt Smart Stadium last night should never be allowed to happen again.
This wasn’t a celebration of Pasifika rugby or a justifiable example of how strong the commitment is by New Zealand Rugby to grow its presence in this part of the world. Only a fool would believe otherwise.
With a game between the Maori All Blacks and Samoa kicking off proceedings on Saturday afternoon, the Pacific double-header was meant to be a happy occasion but ultimately ended in utter despair. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that at least a little bit of Tongan international rugby died on Saturday night, as the All Blacks continued to pile on try after try.
It was uncomfortable to watch; a pointless exercise in rugby try-scoring for the sake of it. Designed and executed to serve as an opportunity for the All Blacks to ease into their 2021 international campaign while being laughingly marketed as a “celebration” of Pasifika rugby.
Nobody was celebrating after this game, quite the opposite in fact.
The tears of Tongan captain Sonatane Takulua and some of the things this man said, particularly about many not understanding just what’s going on behind the scenes for Tonga (and likely the other Pacific nations) really speaks to the intense frustration of what’s been taking place for a long time now.
Furthermore, this was not the ideal or fair preparation for what Tonga has ahead of them; two crucial Rugby World Cup qualifiers against Samoa who are now battle-hardened after two clashes with the Maori.
It’s a pointless exercise in going over some of the detail from Tonga’s latest hit out against the All Blacks, but let me humour you for a moment.
The All Blacks ran in four tries before a penalty, scrum, or even a lineout had taken place. That was early in the piece, but it would get worse after the halftime break. Five tries were scored in the 15 minutes after oranges, all to the team in black who would finished with a tally of 16 tries and 102 points on the board.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 4, 2021
That alone should suggest that what we were treated to at Mount Smart Stadium was not test rugby.
Tonga missed 11 tackles in the opening 14 minutes of the game and were soundly lacking in all fundamentals on defence for most of the night. When they were able to string some phases together, a lack of cohesion in the backline was evident and resulted in a lot of passes being lost in behind.
But any criticism of Tonga is as unfair as it is unwelcome. Nobody should be pointing the finger at coaches or players because they were sold down the river from the very outset.
Just look at the preparation – or lack thereof.
I’m talking about that country-wide sweep trying to find players eligible for Tongan duty from the club scene because the more established members were either stuck in MIQ or not available.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 4, 2021
I won’t add to the discussion around the well-documented eligibility rules and how they serve to the detriment of the Pacific sides, but that unsurprisingly played its part in the 102-0 demolition.
The natural reaction to such a scoreline is one of cynicism, but the question has to be asked, is New Zealand Rugby listening?
This fixture was organised on their watch and they’ll be the ones to take the majority of the gate takings. There is a reason why just 15,000 tickets were purchased for the All Blacks first-ever visit to Mount Smart and, that reason is rugby fans aren’t stupid.
They know an impending bloodbath when they see one, the respective PR spin by New Zealand Rugby hasn’t managed to fill a stadium in Super Rugby all season, and now that’s starting to float over to the biggest moneymaker in the sport, All Blacks home fixtures.
Maybe having a North vs South game or pitting the All Blacks up against the Maori might have been a better bet after all.
Meanwhile, the true victim in all of this is Tonga. Once again, they’re left to lick their wounds and find a way to pick themselves up with little to show for the occasion. There are many parties that are complicit in this, and they all need to take a big look in the mirror.
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