What a confidence-building week that was for rugby.

There we were thinking SANZAAR could disband at any minute, that South Africa’s referees were back to cheating again and rugby in New Zealand was going down the gurgler.

Fear not fans. “Handy” Andy Marinos and the gang at SANZAAR reckon it’s all a figment of someone’s imagination.

Continue reading below…

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Yes, South Africa aren’t leaving SANZAAR and, in fact, reports that the organisation has no future beyond 2025 are simply fanciful.

“It’s nothing more than media speculation and I think someone’s just trying to stoke a bit of fire,’’ Marinos said in Sydney last week.

Marinos and his ilk can cite 2025 until they’re blue in the face. The facts are that the member SANZAAR unions – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – have agreements in place until 2025 and then all bets are off.

The game across the globe is struggling and, at the risk of having to mention this every week, being propped up in the Southern Hemisphere by South African television network SuperSport.

If SA Rugby and SuperSport decide that they’ll get more bang for their Springboks’ buck in Europe, then the whole thing falls over. Again, Marinos can cling to 2025 all he likes, but it could be a rather different rugby world by then.

But Marinos wasn’t done there. No, not by a long chalk.

New Zealand fans of a certain vintage will remember referee Gert Bezuidenhout and the towelling he gave the touring All Blacks in 1976. Seems old habits die hard, if the widely-reported numbers run by Green and Gold Rugby are anything to go by.

Other outfits have since done their own analysis of those figures, without disproving the theory that South African referees favour their own teams to a startling degree.

Marinos countered by suggesting the numbers had been manipulated by unhappy Australians and that SANZAAR would respond with their own statistics in time.

“I just don’t understand where, after 10 years of meritocracy, suddenly now neutrality becomes an issue,’’ said Marinos.

Maybe news gets to Marinos more slowly than the rest of us. Just last year, for example, much was made of the performances of Egon Seconds and Rasta Rasivhenge in games in South Africa between local sides and the visiting Highlanders, Waratahs and Rebels.

The combined penalty count against those touring sides was 46-3, in case Marinos hasn’t heard yet or had forgotten.

Why mention this stuff? Because rugby is battling right now. Anyone involved with the community game or who turns on their television to watch Super Rugby or who reads about another All Black playing golf in Queenstown for the week knows things have to change.

And yet the game’s leaders, in this case the boss of SANZAAR, insist it’s in rude health and that anyone who suggests otherwise is a muckraker with an agenda.

At least New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have been prepared to admit the game faces issues. It’s just that nothing out of head office last Friday indicated they have any viable solutions.

Apparently NZR are going to lose some money. No bull. They announced a $30 million deficit for the next five years at last April’s Annual General Meeting. It’s not a newsflash.

I won’t bore you with the findings of NZR’s independent report but, to summarise, they want to find more junior players, keep them longer, hopefully contract them straight to Super Rugby franchises, make more money and try not to spend quite so much.

Wow, what a blueprint that is. You can imagine other businesses and sports organisations lining up around the block to hear how NZR came up with that.

Here’s something not in the press release. Unions around the country have been offered the opportunity to make all adult rugby, below premier level, 10 a-side with uncontested scrums.

That’s already the case up to under-11 level in age-group rugby, with under 12 and 13 to follow next year.

Ten a-side rugby with golden oldies scrums? The secondary schools that can afford it will still have first XV programmes, but the rest of the country will play 10s, if they’re bothering to play rugby at all.

Good luck creating All Blacks out of a pathway like that.

But then luck is a big part of the NZR strategy. They’re crossing their fingers a private equity firm, such as CVC Capital Partners, will come to their rescue and stump up the $30 million they’re short of.

That’s another reason why Marinos’ show of confidence was so misplaced. Never mind SA Rugby jumping ship, NZR will go anywhere and play anyone so long as CVC, or whoever, are paying them enough money.

But, hey, who are we to talk. Marinos and company have clearly got everything under control.

Six Nations won’t rule out paywalled broadcasts:

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