Nines versus Sevens
February 04, 2013, 09:30:45
No sport is perfect - rugby is what it is, with a lot of strong points, says Chris Rattue.
The Wellington sevens tournament has been hit by a lot of negative publicity this year and the worst is yet to come. A tournament packed with players who are, let's be honest, no-name whippets could be blown out of the water if - as looks certain - promoters Dean Lonergan and Duco get a high-profile NRL pre-season nines tournament firing in Auckland. Rugby is hamstrung with sevens, because the world circuit falls between many stools whereas individual festivals can fit in with local seasons and allow the stars to take part.
Rugby has taken a large part of the fun out of a fun game. When it comes to promotional ability, rugby versus Lonergan is an unfair contest. Rugby sees itself as a national crusade, with dutiful spectators. In the other corner, Lonergan doesn't only promote the Fight for Life, he sees that as the promoter's credo because his livelihood is on the line. His promotions involve contests between stars who excite the masses.
Here's the tip - Deano and his mates will also be furiously feeding stories to the media, whereas rugby is in love with the Privacy Act. Rugby sevens isn't a classic pro sport but more of a worldwide marketing ploy. On one hand, it fails in that regard. On the other, sevens has proved a spectacular success by gaining rugby entry into the Olympics. But because people like New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens - whose guru status is on very shaky ground - are denied access to the stars and have turned sevens into a game full of largely anonymous running machines, a sport of potential has become a one-trick bore.
The league nines tournament sounds so much more interesting than rugby sevens, primarily because famous players with recognisable traits and skills will be involved. Those players will still be in true league mode yet with more space to produce the spectacular. And hey, the spectators can still dress up as nuns if they want, although getting drunk in public is another matter. On a similar note, there was an interesting column in the Herald on Sunday about Australian moves to develop a hybrid game based on rugby and league.
What an awful prospect though. As someone who enjoys both codes, the status quo is fine. League does not need to keep pretending it could go global - league is a fabulous yet niche sport by world standards, and there is no disgrace in that. All league needs to do is work harder to ensure the players are paid properly instead of treating them like serfs. Meanwhile, rugby would be helped if its own people stopped moaning about the rules and the way the game is played. No sport is perfect - rugby is what it is, with a lot of strong points.
The two codes could meet in our sevens team for the Olympics, however. As the 2016 Games are in August, this would strike complications with regard to the football seasons. But let's conveniently overlook that for argument's sake, dream the dream first, and say that no situation is insurmountable.