Empty stadiums obvious sign of NPC overload

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2012
Eden Park
Photosport
TURN-OFF: The empty seats at Eden Park as Auckland hosted Wellington are emblematic of this year's NPC.

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OPINION: It seems pretty clear that there is no future in spreading National Provincial Championship rugby games out during the week.

Reports claim that viewers are turning off when faced with the prospect of games on every day barring Monday, while crowd sizes at all grounds appear to be well down if the views of empty stadiums on the box are anything to go by.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at the 3000-4000 who turned out to watch the Stags against Northland on Wednesday night.

It was the first time a Wednesday NPC game had been played in Invercargill and a shower of rain went over the city just as people were leaving work and would have been deciding whether to go to the game or not.

The NPC has undergone interminable tinkering since the good old days of three divisions with promotion relegation games.

Professional rugby has killed that glorious model for all time yet no enduring replacement has been discovered.

The inclusion of 14 teams puts pressure on the calendar but there does not seem to be enough enthusiasm to push for a round-robin competition.

The bigger unions would favour a 10-team competition which does have a round-robin but the smaller unions are unlikely to vote for an early Christmas when they are likely to be the turkey on the table.

Despite being involved in the first division throughout the professional years, Southland's small commercial and playing base makes them vulnerable to any cuts.

The premiership/championship system hasn't been around long enough to establish itself in the public's mind.

It has merits but it is totally unnecessary to have four-team playoffs in each division.

In a seven-team competition, the top team should go automatically through to the final, with the second team hosting the third in a semifinal.

I would also prefer to see the automatic promotion changed to a promotion/relegation game.

When it was brought back a few years ago it was a spectacular flop because the gap between the first and second divisions was so great but there really is little difference between the bottom teams in the premiership and most teams in the championship.

Championship team Southland, who have lost their first three games, managed to topple premiership side Hawke's Bay, for instance.

The cross-over format, however, is contrived, a bone thrown to the championship teams to make them feel less like the second division teams they really are.

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Criticisms are simple, solutions are more difficult.

The only certainty is that the New Zealand Rugby Union will kill the golden goose if they continue to go down the current road. The answer to all ills is not "more rugby".

While the fans are turning away, the players are taking a hammering.

There isn't enough time in the schedule for their skills to be developed. NPC rugby is becoming less of a breeding ground and more of a takeaway product.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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