Auck­land’s demise mir­rors that of the NPC

Weekend Herald - - RUGBY -

atch­ing Auck­land play rugby was one of the charms of win­ter sport when pro­vin­cial ri­valry was the pin­na­cle of do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion.

Our he­roes wore the blue and white hoops and while the laws, con­di­tions and the turf on Eden Park could shrink matches, it didn’t de­ter our en­thu­si­asm for Wilson Whin­eray and troops such as Des Con­nor, Mac Herewini, Waka Nathan and Paul Lit­tle.

Later on, watch­ing Shield de­fences from the ter­races was the best mid­week ex­cuse to cut univer­sity lec­tures as Bryan Wil­liams, Gra­hame Thorne, Andy Haden and Den­nis Thorn went about their busi­ness. Auck­land were good, just as the NPC was the ma­jor do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion, but both are past tense.

The in­va­sion of sum­mer by Su­per Rugby and a blan­ket of All Black tests ac­com­pa­nied by ex­ten­sive tele­vi­sion cov­er­age and spinoff shows has left pro­vin­cial rugby as the awk­ward re­la­tion, split into mean­ing­less di­vi­sions and shoe­horned into a two- month cal­en­dar.

That is no ex­cuse for Auck­land’s poor show­ing this sea­son, which is an un­wel­come mat for the prov­ince’s lat­est chief ex­ec­u­tive Jar­rod Bear. His in­com­ing pledge about win­ning matches hasn’t had much im­pact on the se­nior side.

They’ve had a high player turnover be­cause of in­juries and na­tional de­fec­tions but ev­ery side faces those prob­lems and Auck­land has more play­ers to pick from than any other union.

Coach Nick White is one of the de­cent guys in the sport, an ami­able ex- prop from north of the big smoke who you sus­pect will be re­lieved to shift away to an­other more re­spon­sive busi­ness.

For all their ap­par­ent rep­u­ta­tions and player depth, Auck­land have been a fizzer, an early Guy Fawkes dud. They last won the na­tional ti­tle in 2007 when they claimed the roundrobin and the fi­nal and also picked up the Ran­furly Shield.

In the decade since their last crown, Auck­land have mud­dled through, and this sea­son have been un­able to make the top four of the Premier­ship while pro­vin­cial neigh­bours North Har­bour, Coun­ties Manukau and North­land in the Cham­pi­onship have done bet­ter.

The hu­mil­i­a­tion is all blue and white and the im­pact on Tana Umaga and his Su­per Rugby picks for the Blues will be an in­trigu­ing re­veal.

If New Zealand Rugby re­ally val­ues the pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onship, in­stead of say­ing they do, they have to give the teams more time to re­cover and play their matches rather than putting the play­ers and coaches on the ex­ist­ing tor­tu­ous sched­ule.

There is not a lot for Auck­land rugby fans to cheer about these days.

Pic­ture / Photosport

When win­ners were grin­ners . . . Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke af­ter win­ning the NPC ti­tle with Auck­land in 1999.

Wynne Gray

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