We could never have imagined that North v South might become the high point of the rugby year.
Far from disbanding, following Saturday’s scheduled clash at Sky Stadium, the two sides may as well stay in camp.
Argentina may or may not come either, leaving Australia as potentially New Zealand’s sole international foe for 2020. As Bledisloe Cup series’ go, this year’s hardly promises to be box office.
I’ve been a bit down on North v South. A bit miffed about how it ended up on the schedule and a bit turned off by the phoney rivalries that people have attempted to manufacture.
But actually North v South might be as good as it gets this year. And, actually, rather than being an artificial and meaningless one-off, attempts ought to be made to extend this out to three matches.
The knock on North v South was that it had no context and no stature. Sure, it was a regular part of the schedule once upon a time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and All Blacks all played club rugby, but it means nothing to rugby fans now.
Well, let’s make it mean something. Let’s admit that The Rugby Championship isn’t going to be staged here – and that fans won’t be able to go – and come up with something else.
I’ve always favoured an all-singing, all-dancing Mitre 10 Cup for 2020. When Super Rugby Aotearoa was being mooted, my view was that the public and the game would be better served by having our best players dispersed among the provinces.
If nothing else, that model would have lessened the attrition that we’ve seen in Super Rugby. More than that, though, it would have connected more All Blacks with more communities and that’s something we could all benefit from right now.
Instead we had Super Rugby Aotearoa and continued – if continually evolving – plans for a Rugby Championship. The first was a success, if hard on a few bodies, but the hopes of holding the second really do look less likely by the day.
None of which will harm interest in Saturday’s match at Sky Stadium.
Already the respective North and South coaching staffs have been urging the players to take the game seriously. Not to treat it as a festival match, but a standalone fixture of some substance.
Ordinarily that would be easier said than done, but 2020 isn’t your ordinary year.
How much better might North v South be if the players knew there was a rematch in two weeks’ time and a potential decider a fortnight after that? How much more cohesive might the teams be by then, and in-tune with the new All Blacks’ staff, after that long in camp?
Yes, we all know Ian Foster is due to announce the first All Blacks’ squad of the year on Sunday, but why? Who are they actually playing and when?
This isn’t the year to be inflexible and be wedded to plans for no reason.
We get that Foster wants to get his hands on the players and to keep them safe from the harm that sometimes comes with playing, but for what? A clash with Rugby World Cup champions South Africa? I don’t think so.
If North v South is such a good concept, then let’s prove it. Let’s admit this year isn’t panning out how we’d planned and extend the inter-island series.
Done right, these games really could be the highlights of the 2020 rugby season.
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