Spare a thought for other sports - Bidwell

10:59 am on 23 October 2019

Opinion - We all like a bit of rugby. Well, enough of us do anyway.

Silver Ferns Maria Folau - Constellation Cup Game 2, between the NZ Silver Ferns v Australian Diamonds, held at Spark Arena, Auckland, New Zealand.  16 October 2019       Photo: Brett Phibbs /

Silver Ferns shooter Maria Folau during the Constellation Cup series against Australia. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

The question is whether we all like that rugby to the exclusion of everything else?

You'll have noticed the Rugby World Cup is on. Hard not to, probably.

Less prominent has been coverage of things such as the Constellation Cup netball series, Friday's rugby league test matches between the men's and women's teams of New Zealand and Australia or the Tonga Invitation XIII's clash with Great Britain.

The domestic cricket season has begun, ahead of the Black Caps' Twenty20 and test series' against England, New Zealand motor racer Scott McLaughlin was officially awarded his maiden Bathurst 1000 the other day and Danny Lee came second in a PGA Tour event in Korea.

More broadly, injury-ravaged tennis star Andy Murray won his first tournament in more than two years, baseball's World Series is about to start and competitions that fascinate fans around the globe such as the NFL and English Premier League are in full swing.

You could go on. Point is that, yes, the Rugby World Cup is a big deal, particularly to a decent portion of New Zealanders, but it's not the only sporting event that people are capable of taking an interest in.

Even if it does provide welcome relief from Meghan Markle or Mark Richardson and Winston Peters.

The netball's definitely worth greater publicity. This isn't some 'my sport's better than your sport' rant. All sports have their merits, it's just that some get more coverage than others.

The world champion-Silver Ferns hold a 2-1 lead over Australia in this year's Constellation Cup, ahead of the final match of the four-game series in Perth on Sunday. They overcame an early six-goal deficit in game-three in Sydney last Sunday to register a genuinely thrilling 54-53 win.

People talk about the athleticism and skill of the All Blacks and rightly so. They are a brilliant side and a credit to themselves and all the mums, dads, teachers, teammates and coaches that helped them ascend to this level.

On the whole, they're humble, hard working guys who typify so much of what it means to be a New Zealander.

You could say the same about most of our national teams really.

Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat win the Bathurst 1000 race 2019.

Scott McLaughlin was 'officially' awarded the Bathurst 1000 crown on Saturday after the ruling against his teammate Fabian Coulthard was announced. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Rugby's a big deal here, but no-one signs for the Hurricanes aged six. In European football, you can officially join a club's academy at nine, although there are development programmes for younger children.

The kids who play in the globally-televised Little League World Series baseball competition are aged 10 to 12.

Things thankfully remain more grassroots here, with kids playing a variety of sports amid a talent pool that's often quite shallow.

Yes, there are now more academies than ever and, in rugby for instance, players do walk from secondary school to professional or semi-professional contracts. Overall, though, New Zealand athletes are products of the modest sporting environments they emerged from.

That's certainly the case with the Silver Ferns, whose battles with Australia over the years have regularly demonstrated elite sport at its best. Netball's not everyone's cup of tea, but even the game's detractors would have to acknowledge the quality of the players involved in this Constellation Cup series and the closeness of the contest.

New Zealand won this year's Netball World Cup final over Australia by a goal, while both their wins in this four-game series have been by a solitary point too. High-performance sport rarely comes any better or more competitive.

Better still, no-one's abusing their opponent. The Australian cricket team often talked about "the line'' between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; ultimately they had no idea where it was and behaved appallingly.

Not their netballers. They're physical, sure, but it's not like anyone's getting a red card in any of these games. What are we up to now at the Rugby World Cup? Eight reds?

And it's not as if netball umpires aren't pedantic. If there's an infringement somewhere, you can be sure they'll find it.

New Zealand aren't as good at netball as Australia. We don't have the depth of talent in either the playing or coaching ranks, meaning world or Constellation Cup wins are something to be cherished.

We're lucky too, to have had the recently-retired Casey Kopua to admire. Maria Folau and Laura Langman are still out there, but for not much longer.

Thankfully shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio has continued her remarkable rise from promising to world class, while others such as Katrina Rore and Jane Watson continue to make valuable contributions.

This is an admirable team, wonderfully coached by Noeline Taurua and, like the All Blacks, a credit to themselves and those who got them here.

But, as we count down to Saturday's Rugby World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and England, they're also rather anonymous.

People will say this is rugby's time in the sun and that the blanket coverage the game's getting is deserved. The counter would be to ask when isn't it rugby's time in the sun? January?

Next year's Super Rugby season starts with the Blues against the Chiefs on 31 January, in case anyone hadn't noticed.

Again, rugby is a big deal in this country and rightly so. But let's not forget there are other athletes out there doing their own worthwhile things.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.