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The game in this country is about more than just the All Blacks

The sun sets over a scrum during the Bunnings Warehouse NPC Quarter Final match between Canterbury and Auckland at Apollo Projects Stadium, on October 06, 2023, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

So who is running rugby in New Zealand?

Prior to Thursday’s governance vote, I’d have said it was New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) chief executive Rob Nichol.


But the decision of our provincial unions to resoundingly vote against the proposal Nichol championed severely undermines his authority, if not actually making his position untenable.

Nichol huffed and puffed about forming a rogue governing body, if the provincial unions didn’t cast a vote of liking.

Well, in the post-vote interview I heard with him, Nichol wasn’t nearly so strident.

Maybe the players he purports to represent felt he’d overplayed his hand? Either way, his days running that particular trade union should be numbered.

Similar could be said for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson.

After all, NZR endorsed the same defeated proposal Nichol did. Or maybe they were just doing what Nichol had told them to, given the whip hand he’s held for so long.

Either way, if the NZR chief executive can’t rally the provincial delegates, then what place does he have running the outfit at all?


So good on the provincial unions for exercising their constitutional right to choose between Proposal 1 and Proposal 2.

The problem is that, despite showing their contempt for the NZRPA and the NZR board in opting for Proposal 2, the provincial unions don’t run the game either.

They don’t control the existing board and, with just three representatives on the nine-strong board that will now have to be formed, they’ll be outnumbered by independents then too.

It really is a shambles, which will come as no great surprise to an increasingly-exasperated fanbase.


Nichol, having struck a more conciliatory tone than he did prior to the vote, is talking about working constructively with NZR and other stakeholders to convene a body that represents the high performance part of the game i.e., the pampered few.

So what’s New Zealand Rugby Commercial, then?

I mean, this is all about money at the end of the day and that separate entity exists solely for the purpose of monetising the All Blacks.

How many quasi governing bodies does the NZRPA need before it can feel assured that the game is being run in the best interests of its members?

I heard Nichol talking all sorts of junk on Thursday about the NZRPA being more committed to grassroots and community rugby than anyone, but I doubt many people buy that.

If I saw a commitment to the beating, participatory heart of the game this week, it came from the provincial unions and no-one else.

It was them who, in words and deeds, sent the message that the game in this country is about more than just the All Blacks.

Nichol can continue rubbishing Proposal 2 and the people who voted for it but, to me, it was always a far more palatable option for fans and volunteers across the country.

So, on that score, I heartily congratulate the provincial unions on reminding Nichol that he doesn’t call all the shots here.

Ultimately, though, it still leaves us with a leadership vacuum.

It’s too early to speculate on who or what might fill it.

But what’s clear is that those who championed Proposal 1 have been defeated and need to exit the stage.

They sought a mandate to lead rugby in a different direction and it was roundly rejected.


Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV


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Greg 25 days ago

Put your head back in the sand, Hamish. Hope Nichol delivers on his threat and the PU fish-heads discover exactly what it is they own when the cash subsidy stops trickling down from the top - sweet fa.

Nickers 26 days ago

This article ignores much of the actual facts.

The outcome of the Pilkington Review is that PUs are not capable of running their own organisations, let alone a modern multi billion dollar company.

The details of proposal 2, especially around the formation of the GAP and ARP still gives outsized voting rights to the PUs, who have proven incapable stewards of the game. On their watch the game in NZ has deteriorated by every measure - yet they have given themselves pass marks on every previous review they have done of themselves.

Proposal 2 allows for the very few capable people who will be on the board to be outvoted by the status quo.

It’s a shame Nichol seems to be all talk about the pro players splitting off. It is the best thing that could have happened for all parties.

Jmann 26 days ago

It is time the amateur and professional game in NZ split entirely with the NPC becoming entirely amateur. High school rugby should be run by local clubs with the exception of the elite rugby schools who are essentially feeders to the Super Franchises anyway. Also if League is going to continue to dangle contracts in front of the noses of our elite 15 year olds… maybe SR franchises should step in and do the same.

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Mzilikazi 22 minutes ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Very good article, Nic, and I find agreement with what you write virtually 100%. I think this two mach series has increasingly become one which will be very difficult for Ireland to win. After the first game of the last 6N, I would have been very full of confidence taking on the Boks in SA. France beaten by a big margin in France, it looked as if Ireland had emerged in fine form from the World Cup, despite the very narrow loss to the AB’s. But after that game, a slide began, ending with the defeat to England. Ireland were very fortunate to win this years 6N ! And as you so fully expose, this has not been a good season for Leinster, or indeed, in my view, for any Irish province. The Leinster loos to the Bulls, and then Munster letting a glorious chance slip to the Glasgow Warriors down at Thomond. Man, that one will really hurt. And both Connacht and Ulster have at times looked very poor this seaso, bith heavily beaten on occassion. The loss of both Gibson Park and Keenan are huge blows, especially Gibson Park. And there is really only one clear class 10 in the touring party, Jack Crowley, and he is still a very young player learning his trade. If he goes down, heaven help Ireland. And in my view, Ireland do not have a good scrummaging front row, SA do, and in great depth too. But despite all this doom and gloom, I always believe my team can win. Not that they will win, just can ! Ireland will still field what is the best and most talented team overall that I have seen in my lifetime. But the coaching group will really have to step up, no awful decisions like the one made against the AB’s in the QF….keeping the totally spent and poorly performing(on the day) Sexton on for the full 80mins, leaving Crowley on the sidelines. Ireland should never have lost that game !

48 Go to comments
Shaylen 3 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Ireland have all the tools required to hurt SA. They develop quick ball, hold onto the ball for long periods, stretch the game when its on, have powerful mobile forwards, a good kicking game and they can hold their own in the scrum. They also can force turnovers regularly and in general do well at the breakdown. When Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow all won games in SA this year against the Bulls and Stormers they did just that and won. It is also the reason why Ireland won the game at the world cup last year. The problem for Ireland is that SA have all the tools required to hurt them as well and hurt them a great deal more than England did in the Six Nations. They are physical and powerful at the set piece, they rush up and counter the Irish attacking system and they can really attack the breakdown and slow your ball down. Their counterattacking threat is also a big weapon and they score many tries from turnover turning defence into offence in a second. Toulouse and the Bulls nailed Leinster in this way and Glasgow did the same thing to Munster. So the series will be really interesting because both sides are so good at countering each other. Interested to see what kind of surprises Tony Brown springs and how the SA game develops. Feel like SA have more potential to surprise Ireland but then a new coaching set up as well as the fact that Japanese and foreign based players tend to take about 5 to 6 weeks to get up to speed might work in Irelands favour. SA have shipped at least one game in 4 of the last 5 June/July test windows going back to 2018 for this exact reason.

48 Go to comments
Flankly 4 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

The comments were reported weirdly. De Allende did say it would be war, but he said it amidst comments like “Ireland play such good footy”, and “they are so good at the breakdown”. He said that the Boks lost heavily to Ireland a few years back and that they felt the Irish press was dismissive of the Boks. I don’t recall that, but I suppose it is true, and that SA players would want to turn around that sentiment. The RWC loss to Ireland would naturally pour fuel on the fire. In short, it is a natural thing for passionate players like him to feel very strongly about the goal of registering a convincing series win against Ireland. There is really nothing to see here. As an aside, the SA team shouldn’t be too self-righteous about this kind of a situation. Recall that in 2004, after SA won the Ireland series in SA, Jake White noted that no more than two Irish players were good enough for selection in his Bok side. "Considering the facts, I think only two of their players would be included in the Bok team - O'Driscoll (centre) and maybe one of the locks. How could we have lost against the Irish?" O’Driscoll disagreed and said that it was close, and Ireland were just tired. My Irish friends were pretty incensed by the comments, quite rightly. And I am sure it was part of the energy that drove them to some famous wins against the Boks. The Etzebeth thing was a little different. I think he was just not hearing what was being said. It is not that unusual for someone to say “We will see you in the final”. Of course it is a statement of confidence, which every team should have, but it is also a compliment. I think there was a cultural fly-by, in which a “see you soon” comment was taken to mean “we will beat you again”. But it was a good story, and a convenient clickbaity headline. I don’t think anyone is intentionally trying to rile up anything. But if you interview a Bok player and prod them about their passion wrt the Ireland tour, you are likely to hear some pretty heartfelt words. And so you should.

21 Go to comments
Turlough 5 hours ago
Are Ireland and Leinster the biggest chokers in world rugby?

Obviously there is a series coming up between SA and Ireland…… Ireland won the six nations (again) went unbeaten for almost 20 games til last Autumn beating all the top world teams twice. Held our nerve to beat NZ in a home NZ series. The RWC draw meant that we had to play a title contender in the Quarter that was a 50:50 and the schedule meant that we had to play a top 5 team 7 days before that quarter against a team who were lining us up all tournament and all year. Maybe Ireland should have focussed more on NZ at the expense of the preparation for the Scottish match? Who knows but thats a coaching issue, I saw no mental frailty during that match. As it happenned NZ were clearly better and got through. France have also been eliminated in the quarters last two world cups (including their home match). They have been solidly beaten by Ireland two years in a row. Where are the jibes there? If Ireland have an issue at the end of games it is game management. Against Toulouse, they aimlessly played on with a scrum advantage and then missed the drop. Leinster’s scrum was completely dominant so a scrum was likely worth a penaltyto win the game off the tee. No penalty, then set of the drop goal attemp then. That was missing, that’s end game management. NZ were getting there with this in 2011 but the Semi Victory over SA in 2015 was a victory of game management. Ireland will address it (hopefully very soon). I like the way the Irish team are staying so quiet. These jibes from SA players and pundits no doubt fueling that quiet energy. Underdog status suits Ireland perfectly. Ireland may not win, but expect a major performance in Loftus.

17 Go to comments
FEATURE Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’? Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?