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The Richie Mo'unga situation shows what's so wrong with rugby in New Zealand

By Hamish Bidwell
Richie Mo'unga. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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This Richie Mo’unga situation sums up so much about what’s so wrong with rugby in New Zealand.


Mo’unga, who barely laced a boot in the last six months of 2021, is sitting out the start of Super Rugby Pacific.

Fair play to the Crusaders’ first five-eighth, that’s what his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract entitles him to do and you can’t really quarrel with that.

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Whether employees should be able to negotiate clauses in their contract that encourage them not to work is probably a debate for another time. Or, more to the point, a question for NZR to answer.

None of us love going to the office but, if we want to get paid, then we simply have to get on with it.

My issue here is the signal.

Are there any games in the rugby calendar that actually matter? Is there any situation in which players simply have to play? Is there any stage when fans do actually get full value from their season memberships, merchandise purchases or television subscriptions?


Super Rugby Pacific looks a lame duck competition, that basically leaves us where we’ve already been for two years – with five useful New Zealand franchises and nothing else.

This season surely had to start with a bang and yet, here we have Mo’unga, arguably the most-dominant franchise player in recent seasons being given a spell.

Why? Because this competition obviously doesn’t matter.

So what is important? Can NZR send us a list of the 2022 fixtures that will be worth our while?


Super Rugby clearly isn’t important and we know provincial footy is an inconvenience and embarrassment to all.

It can’t be the All Blacks that matter, otherwise there’d be a greater clamour for them to deliver on all the hype. Or better coaching and fewer sabbaticals for a pampered few.

Really and truly, how many All Blacks tests a year are of any consequence? The team played 15 times in 2021 and winning was an absolute priority in how many? I’d say four: the two Springbok games and then Ireland and France and, what do you know, the All Blacks lost three of them.

A culture where playing is purely optional doesn’t do wonders for team cohesion, you’d imagine. What next? Negotiable effort?

The continuing Covid situation is a shame and certainly complicates things for administrators. But they could mitigate the disappointment of games going behind closed doors or
Moana Pasifika’s enforced absence from round one of Super Rugby Pacific by at least mandating that all fit All Blacks are on deck.

After all, we are a nation who will largely accept what’s mandated to us.

People do want to care, they do want to support their team, they do want to see rugby in this country succeed. But when they look up and see good players sitting games out, many of those people will also wonder why they bother.

Good luck to Mo’unga and good luck to the Crusaders who’ll play in his absence. But good luck to the fans as well, who’ll have a significantly worse team to cheer for over the opening three rounds.


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