All Blacks great Sir Colin Meads can't see any sense in chopping what has turned out to be New Zealand's most interesting competition.
In the fourth year of the Air New Zealand Cup, the lesser teams have come right, and all have become competitive, he said.
"Now they want to chop it all out again," Sir Colin said from his Te Kuiti home.
Cities like Palmerston North are getting huge crowds to games and the fans are loving it, he said.
He was at FMG Stadium on August 20 when Manawatu beat Otago and revelled in the atmosphere.
"Teams have come on this year. Northland, Tasman and Manawatu are playing pretty good rugby," he said.
His feeling is that the "big boys" are dictating the reduction in teams from 14 to 10. And he's heard the announcement from the New Zealand Rugby Union that all 14 unions are in favour of the cut being made.
"To me that's bullshit. I think we'll see a lot more water under the bridge before it happens.
"I wouldn't go past there being court action." He'd prefer to see 14 teams retained and the competition costs cut.
Former All Black selector Peter Thorburn said the NZRU has millions of dollars in reserves and some of that should be used for the good of the game.
"I believe it is their obligation to find funding for it, for the asset that is this competition."
But he wonders if the national body has a real intention of doing what's good for the game.
By his reckoning, there are close to 50 players in the threatened teams – Manawatu, Tasman, Northland and Counties-Manukau – who are good enough to be playing premier rugby. And a good proportion of them should be on the verge of Super 14, he said.
"The second-tier competition won't provide a competition for these guys to learn quicker than they are now. They won't be playing tough teams."
Former All Black selector, Earle Kirton, has been impressed at how the former division-two provinces have stepped up and provided a greater pool of players. He says it's just a matter of getting the organisation and the finances right.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Sir Colin Meads, former All Black: "It's terribly sad; Manawatu have been playing pretty good rugby. There are going to be a lot of problems if they put four teams down. There will be some hard words said to the NZRU."
Gary Knight, Manawatu's former All Black prop: "Places like Auckland, if they are down the bottom, should get the chop. Those big Super 14 places have got unfair money and will keep plucking players because they have got the money."
Hamish McKay, TV3 sportscaster: "It would be an absolute insanity if the Turbos were gone. They have proved themselves on the paddock and I'm not going to take this lying down. I'd be filthy and I'd be down there boots and all."
Sir Brian Lochore, former All Black coach: "The positivity of all teams from one to 14 has been absolutely brilliant. They've been well coached and have played for the unions they represent and that's what it's all about."
David Kirk, former All Black: "I watched every game I could during the (Manawatu) Ranfurly Shield era and I remember the names of every player. I was there when we finally lost. Manawatu rugby has made a huge contribution to New Zealand rugby over the years and deserves the chance to keep doing so."
Peter Thorburn, former All Black selector: "If two teams went down it would probably be too many. The NZRU should be finding a way to keep the status quo because there is so much talent coming through. The main reason they're doing this is to fit in the Super 14."
- Manawatu Standard
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