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The Rugby Championship is the only thing keeping NZR's bills paid

By Hamish Bidwell

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One thing is keeping the wolf from New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) door.

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One thing stands between them and financial oblivion. It could have been two things, except NZR completely cocked up the first.

I’m not bothered about who’s right in this public spat between NZR and Rugby Australia. All I know is that without SANZAAR and that body’s broadcast agreements, NZR is stuffed.

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If I’m NZR chief executive, I have two main items on the to-do list for 2021: drive through the private equity agreement with Silver Lake and keep SANZAAR sweet.

The Silver Lake thing came down to two parties as well. Robinson had to convince the lemmings from the 26 provincial unions to give Silver Lake the thumbs up, as well as the players’ association.

The unions were no trouble. They’re beholden to NZR and wouldn’t exist without the governing body’s generosity, so that took no work.

Imagine our surprise then when NZR – largely through the big mouth of former chairman Brent Impey – declared the Silver Lake deal a slam dunk.

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Now I’ve been a proponent of NZR trying to generate revenue from non-broadcast markets. I’ve been critical of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) and their propensity to take, but never give.

They’re seemingly happy to receive money, but never support NZR’s attempts to earn it.

But you can’t go public with details of a private equity deal – as NZR did – when one of the parties with the ability to scupper that hasn’t been adequately consulted, let alone agreed to it.

But then arrogance has become a hallmark of the way NZR do business.

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They’ll tell other nations how it is, whether it be when and where the All Blacks will be prepared to play them, how much of the gate they’d like and who they’re prepared to let into their competitions.

Lest we forget that’s how last year’s Tri-Nations ended up in Australia.

We want these teams in Super Rugby, for instance, and you Australian non-entities should be glad we’ve deigned to include you at all.

Heck, we’ll even stage back-to-back Bledisloe Cup tests at Eden Park and you’ll have to like it. Only not many people did and the stadium was barely half-full.

But I digress.

The Silver Lake deal has not gone through and NZR are the best part of $400 million poorer because of it.

Robinson and Impey, who presided over a $34 million loss for NZR in 2020, had one group to keep onside here and they couldn’t. Far from it, in fact.

The more Impey spoke, the more the NZRPA were inclined to walk away from negotiations.

Now I hope Robinson went through the appropriate channels when it came to informing RA the All Blacks wouldn’t be playing the Wallabies in Perth this Saturday.

Maybe Robinson was just being flippant when he told a radio station that senior All Blacks were texting senior Wallabies and, therefore, RA knew the game was a goner.

But to even throw that up as an example of the open dialogue between the two parties was laughable.

The All Blacks have to play this year; and not in some Mickey Mouse game against the United States either. They need to play Australia, South Africa and Argentina because they are essentially the only thing paying the bills right now.

When Covid-19 first hit, some of us talked of New Zealand going it alone. Of starting from scratch and building a more domestically-based model that showcased our game to the world.

An all-singing, all-dancing provincial competition and in-bound tours from other nations that covered the length and breadth of the country. A chance to return to a format that so enchanted fans for generations.

Only it wouldn’t pay its way, we were told. New Zealand Rugby needed Australia and South Africa, particularly, and multi-national competitions that attracted global sponsors and broadcasters.

New Zealand and it’s mighty All Blacks simply didn’t have the clout to go it alone or dictate terms.

So why are we thumbing our nose at RA then? Why is the clamour within South Africa to seek Northern Hemisphere partners growing? Why are we the ones seemingly putting the SANZAAR alliance under the greatest threat?

The idea of All Blacks exceptionalism has sustained us for more than a hundred years. We feel certain we have the best players, playing the best brand of rugby, and that everyone else can’t get enough of us.

But that exceptionalism doesn’t extend to NZR. No-one, it seems, is remotely impressed by them.

Not our players’ association and definitely not NZR’s so-called SANZAAR partners.

Whatever goodwill existed between NZR and RA is long gone now and Robinson and company are doing nothing to regenerate it. At every turn they seem to dismiss RA’s beliefs or feelings, at a time when we’ve actually never needed them more.

It’s immaterial who’s right or wrong here. It doesn’t matter who told who the All Blacks weren’t playing in Perth this week.

What matters here is that NZR appear to be drowning and there’s no-one left who’s prepared to throw them a life preserver.

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The Rugby Championship is the only thing keeping NZR's bills paid

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