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'We've probably taken the fan for granted': NZR aim to bridge gap between players and public

By Ned Lester
Scott Barrett poses for photos with fans after the Crusaders' Super Rugby Pacific Final win. Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby’s General Manager of Professional Rugby and Performance, Chris Lendrum, has admitted the governing body has “taken the fan for granted” but is taking steps to prioritise the audience’s engagement with players moving forward.


Lendrum discussed the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season and referred to it as an opportunity to play the tournament “in the way it was intended to be run” now that Covid restrictions have eased and teams are able to run a more conventional preseason leading into the competition.

2022’s Pacific expansion teams, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua, were the teams most affected by Covid in Super Rugby Pacific’s maiden year. Moana Pasifika were especially hard done by, having a handful of games postponed early in the season only to have to make up for them with mid-week fixtures throughout the competition.

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Anticipating fewer obstructions for the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific and Aupiki seasons, Lendrum noted New Zealand Rugby viewed the year as “a chance to really grow the competition from a fan’s perspective.

“I think if we’re really self-critical about Super Rugby,” Lendrum told The All Blacks podcast. “It’s been an amazing competition from a high-performance perspective for its entire lifespan, but we haven’t collectively as rugby invested in the fan and we’ve probably taken the fan for granted a little bit.

“We’ve got a lot of catch-up work to do, people are very discerning these days, we’re all time-poor as you know so we’ve got a lot of effort to put in there and we’re now ready to roll up our sleeves. We’ve got a definite product, a great competition, everything’s in regional timezones so if you want to watch all six games every weekend, then you can.”



Fans’ engagement with the game has of course suffered throughout the pandemic, with Super Rugby’s postponement, restructuring and various levels of crowd restrictions being imposed for public safety.

Pinpointing exactly where New Zealand Rugby’s relationship with the fans may have faltered, Lendrum said the drive to win at the international level had potentially distracted the Union from investing in the fans.

“I don’t think it’s been anything too intentional, nobody sets out saying ‘we want to cut the fans out’.

“But we’re very focussed on performance and frankly there’s been some advantages to that, at the international level we’ve performed really well, actually all the SANZAAR countries have performed really well internationally in the lifetime of the competition, so we’ve done some good stuff there but we just haven’t invested in bringing that competition to the fan.


“We’ve got a lot of the world’s best players playing in this competition, in fact, you’d argue now that a lot of them are going to play in Super Rugby Aupiki so there’s more stories to unpack of those players as individuals and as teams that we can take to the public. You can see people want to engage and understand people’s individual stories, we’ve got great colour in the game, in rugby in New Zealand, it is a game for all New Zealanders, we get all types of people from all walks of life and background into our game and let’s really show that.”


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