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The value of the NPC

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The value of the NPC - Scotty Stevenson

Scotty Stevenson ponders if good food and provincial rugby can be healthy and taste good at the same time.

I remember with vague nostalgic fondness my childhood at the dinner table. Given my appetites ran a short gauntlet between beige and ketchup, mealtime was a constant battle for my frustrated parents, and dinner was very much the frontline. I had a Tory-level disdain for anything green and a rural contempt for exotic flavours, and by ‘exotic’ I mean anything that didn’t taste like baked bough, potato or highly sweetened tomato puree, or industrially processed reconstructions of familiar farm animals.

The weapon of choice in the foodie face-off for mum and dad was the oft-used refrain, “But It’s good for you” which is about as effective on a child as logic on a drunk. Children don’t want what’s good for them, they want to test the limits of their nascent human capacity for self-destruction. Children have two purposes in life: to spread colds and to hurt themselves. Everything else is incidental.  

I only bring this up because as we get older and more capable of ingesting vegetables and, in most cases, more aware of hand hygiene, we never quite shake the impulse to fight back against people who try to tell us what’s good for us. Fast food companies know this, which is why you can order all-day breakfasts and pizzas packed with enough calories in a single slice to stave off sub-Saharan famine. They know you will order it, because you are just dying to say, “Fuck you and your kale chips, I am taking the Trans-fat express to tasty land.”

And this is why, when a perfectly balanced sporting square meal is served up, we are prepared to turn our backs on it in favour of Uber-Eatsing our way through 6,000 kilojoules of empty carbohydrates all doused in the flavour of the month, which at the moment seems to be the appallingly unambitious Sriracha mayonnaise.

Which brings us to the final round of the Mitre 10 Cup this weekend. If ever there was a competition that represented the wholesome goodness of home cookery and three veg, it is this absolute treasure. It is the lightly braised cabbage, the blanched green bean, the spring-fresh minted pea and gently steamed broccoli of the rugby world. In essence, it is all that is great and glorious and colon-kind about the sport yet here it sits, in all its spirit-nourishing goodness, suffering from collective and wilful neglect while the fans scream for a quick hit of sugar and – God help us – truffle oil fries.

Just as television cookery has transformed the humble barbeque into a wankfest of spiced rubs and smoke clouds and slow-roasting, so the National Provincial Championship has been subjugated by its Super Superior, reduced to the level of garden salad and lamb cutlet. No wonder New Zealand Rugby is fearful of being French-Boned.

Still, here we are, at the business end of the brisket, and it is time to rekindle our appetites for the family feast. A Shield game awaits, between Waikato and Otago, which you will remember ended last time with the Log of Wood heading south so as arguably the most unlucky captain in all of the Shield’s storied history, Crazy Dave Latta, could finally get his mitts on the damn thing. He did. He cried.

There is a Friday night fight to stave off relegation for Taranaki when they come up against a Wellington side that is in the semifinal picture and would desperately like to stay there. Who can say with any authority what has happened to the amber and black brigade this year? The team has cracked, seemingly in sympathy with the grandstands of Yarrow’s Stadium. The Bulls will need to play with enough pride to fill a Mardi Gras parade.

There is the Battle of the Bridge on Sunday, a rivalry I have written of before. It’s low standing in the pecking order of professional rugby a source of constant befuddlement to this correspondent. Auckland will be playing for top spot in the premiership and Harbour could well be scrapping for a place in the playoffs. It never ceases to amaze me that this game can’t half fill a stadium (is the stadium half empty or half full?) but that’s just the way it seems to be. Sadly.

It’s not irreversible though. I have to believe that. I have to believe that one day we’ll all wake up and realise they were right all along, those who try to tell us the provincial game is good for us. We just don’t want to listen.

And we’ll regret it. When it’s gone and its mouth-filling flavour has been lost to the syrupy fructose of the all-franchise diet, we’ll crave it.

After all, it’s sustenance for the soul, the true taste of home.

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The value of the NPC - Scotty Stevenson