What Has Happened to Rugby?

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIMay 2, 2009

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 14: An All Black fan sings in the crowd during the First Iveco Series Test match between New Zealand All Blacks and England at Eden Park on June 14, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The days of rugby being the passion of every person living in a city are now a distant memory. It is hard to believe that it was only within the last decade that you could go along to a Super 14 game and you would get a sell out crowd.

Nowadays you go along to a Super 14 game and you might be lucky to get 10,000 people along. So, what happened?

To me the first reason that less and less people are now going to the games is the fact that there is so much rugby now.

Every weekend you get six or seven games of Super 14 rugby, international teams play over ten tests in a season and then there is all the provincial competitions such as the Air New Zealand Cup and the Currie Cup.

It is starting to lose its impact and is getting to be overkill. Tests aren't the big occasion that they used to be.

You see the Tri-Nations teams playing each other three times a season now. To me it would be a better idea to drop the Tri-Nations all together and go back to touring like they did in the old days.

That way you don't get an overkill of test and you get to see some of the international teams playing against some mid-week teams.

Look at when the All Blacks played Munster last year. This game doesn't have quite the same prestige as a test match, but it was a great occasion and it gave everyone the feeling we used to get back when rugby meant more.

The other benefit of touring is that it makes it special when a test comes around and because you might only get four or five tests a season, not every weekend.

Another problem is that at provincial level it is no longer the top players playing against the top players. This has decreased the quality of the rugby we are watching and has made games less appealing to viewers outside the regions playing.

This just shows how influential the national coaches can be over what happens in the provincial competitions.

It is rare to see players like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw turning out and playing every game they are able to for their province now.

While you can understand that they need a break, it comes back to the same thing: too much rugby. 

Trophies like the Ranfurly Shield have now lost some of the prestige they used to hold because of this.

Up until the start of the 21st century, you knew that if you wanted to win the 'log of wood' that you would have to beat the holders with their top players playing and with a vocal crowd behind them.

Now you play a team missing a number of their top players and you no longer have that satisfaction of knowing that you beat the best to win.

This to me is key. Who wants to go and watch two second-string teams play for a trophy that no longer holds the same prestige as it did 20 years ago?

Getting the all the top players back and playing the entire, or most of, the season for their provinces will go a long way towards bringing the crowds back to the rugby ground.

The other problem of recent years now is television. Before all the games were played on television if you wanted to see the game, you had to go to it.

Now with games being on pay to view networks such as Sky and Fox supporters are even less encouraged to go to the games.

At first, that may seem like an odd statement to make but if you think about it if you are paying to get the Sports channel on your television, and you are also paying to go to the game, you are effectively paying to see the game twice.

Many people now are opting to simply watch the game at home on their TV instead of going to a low atmosphere, poor quality game.

So then, where to now?

It seems like we have dug ourselves into a hole that we can't get out of. How do we get the public's appetite for rugby back? The way to do it is slowly.

It's never going to happen straight away, so we just have to look at improving little things often, not making dramatic changes that are few and far between.

Things like introducing more midweek games and fewer tests would get the public back into the rugby spirit. Or perhaps playing more afternoon games.

This may not be ideal for international audiences but if we want people to actually go to the game, it will be worth it.

It is much more enjoyable watching a game on a warm, sunny afternoon rather than on a freezing cold Friday or Saturday night.

All I can say is that I hope rugby does get back to where it was.