Auckland’s demise mirrors that of the NPC
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.
When winners were grinners . . . Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke after winning the NPC title with Auckland in 1999.