Turbo fans get on the bus
Provincial rugby shouldn't be about dollars – it should be about sense, the Manawatu Turbos' leading supporter says.
Manawatu Rugby Supporters Club president Barrie Angland plans to take this message to the New Zealand Rugby Union when he leads a bus full of Turbos fans to its Wellington headquarters on Saturday. They will be protesting the NZRU's plan to relegate four provinces from the Air New Zealand Cup next year to a new division-one competition.
Relegation for any of the 14 provinces would stamp out the pride a premier division provincial team builds in a community, Mr Angland said. In the Turbos' case, that pride is still building on and off the field, and he is concerned the NZRU could "prune the tree before it's blossomed".
The Turbos entered the Air New Zealand Cup in 2006 in the wake of the Central Vikings' demise, when pride in the province had "died right down", Mr Angland said. Now in its fourth season, supporters, from primary schools to old folks' homes, are rallying behind the local lads.
The team's stars are inspiring children to take up the game with their on-field skills and with visits to schools. "For the kids, that's a hell of a thrill." Older players also have an incentive to keep playing to attain the highest provincial honour, rather than being distracted by the opposite sex, alcohol and overseas travel.
That's how you grow the game, Mr Angland said. There was no need to buy out-of-town players. You can find talent within any province, and these players just needed to be developed, he said.
Players of the top class – Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kurt Baker – are just starting to hit their straps, and should be given five years to prove their abilities, Mr Angland said. "Here we are in the fourth year and we're going to wreck it."
If the NZRU grows the game, the money will come through the gates with the fans, he said.
Membership in Mr Angland's club has reached 200 and public turnout to home games at FMG Stadium is strong.
Spectators country-wide would notice if the "buckethead" fans disappeared with the Turbos, he said. "The whole of New Zealand is going to have a field day: getting rid of the bucketheads!"
NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs has said the changes are important to resolving the sustainability issues and uncertainty which have hampered the success of the Air New Zealand Cup.