The death of rugby loyalty

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 15:07 29/08/2013

Super Rugby helped to destroy provincial loyalty and it is now reaping what it's sown.

When rugby first went professional following the 1995 World Cup, a southern hemisphere competition was thrown together with a necessary, but almost indecent, haste.

The New Zealand system was based around five dominant NPC teams of the time - Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago.

These franchise bases were aligned to a combination of provincial unions on a largely geographic basis.

The theory was that anyone from within those franchise regions would be able to play for the franchise team and then return to their province to play in the NPC.

But it didn't work out that way.

The big unions were guilty - some more guilty than others - of persuading players that they would be better off playing their NPC rugby in the same town as their franchise rugby.

The rich got richer and provinces like Southland were powerless to stop some of their best talent heading north.

The move to direct contracting for Super Rugby franchises has brought the wheel full circle in some ways.

There is no requirement for a Tasman player to sign, in the first instance, with the Crusaders anymore.

All the players are paid by the NZRU on a defined scale depending on their perceived worth, which means most players earn the same basic salary regardless of which franchise they play for.

The deciding factors now appear to be the team environment, the likelihood of game time and the murky, mysterious spectre of third party payments.

So we now have a situation where Jamie Mackintosh will join his Southland team-mate Robbie Robinson at the Chiefs next year, while Southland's Brayden Mitchell has signed to play his club rugby for Waikato but will return to the Highlanders next Super Rugby season.

You might suggest that this is the death knell for loyalty in New Zealand rugby, but if the franchises are going to complain then they have only themselves to blame.

Julian Savea might be Wellington through-and-through, but that doesn't make him a Hurricane.

I'm picking there aren't many Manchester United players who actually come from Manchester.

There are notable exceptions.

Ben Smith has signed a long-term deal to stay at the Highlanders. He's a home town Dunedin boy, he proud of the fact and should be applauded for showing some loyalty to the people around him.

- The Southland Times

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