8 May 2020

Good afternoon to Super Rugby Aotearoa

3:27 pm on 8 May 2020

Analysis - And on the seventh day the Lord said let there be rugby.

Blues Blake Gibson passes out the line out ball.


Yes, you read that right - one of the longest standing criticisms of national game is finally being addressed, with kickoff times for the makeshift Super Rugby Aotearoa being moved to Sunday afternoons.

It's understood that the two games to be held every weekend will kickoff at 5pm Saturday and 3pm Sunday, albeit in front of empty stands as we move into Alert Level 2 of the nationwide lockdown.

Apparently it won't be the only change either, with the door open for pretty much anything as the competition is not bound by SANZAAR rules.

So there's one for every pundit out there who has been banging on about returning to the glory days of provincial rugby.

Games have traditionally kicked off at 7:35pm on Friday and Saturday nights ever since all the major grounds were fitted with lights, with the decision made back in the late 1990's for that time as it would avoid clashing with the Holmes show and Shortland Street (with the extra five minutes presumably so fans could make a cup of tea or go to the loo).

Ever since, there's been constant calls to get top level games back in the afternoon, and not without merit given that games often finishing at 9:30pm is far too late to engage impressionable young fans that are missing out on a chance to see their heroes.

The evidence of that was extremely apparent in last year's World Cup warm up match in Hamilton when the All Blacks played Tonga, which had a 3pm kickoff.

The number of families and children was far higher than any other test in recent memory, and feedback from the players was that the day out in the sun was warmly received.

This is, of course, all hinging on whether the government will give a final green light to rugby's return in just over four week's time.

As we've seen so often during this crisis, it's hard to plan more than a few days ahead, let alone a month. But here we are.

Tonga regroup under their posts after one of the 14 tries they conceded against the All Blacks in Hamilton.

The All Blacks-Tonga afternoon test played in Hamilton last year was a huge hit. Photo: Photosport

This is the most positive sign since Super Rugby became essentially the first public business casualty of Covid-19 in New Zealand back in mid-March, however there's still a few things to iron out if rugby is to get out the other side of this with a clean bill of health.

Yesterday's press conference with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Mark Robinson yielded little in the way of definitive answers about the immediate future of the game (this in stark comparison to the NRL, who have ploughed on publicly with every every possible scenario to make sure league is back on TV as soon as possible).

As per usual though, it's the levels below Super Rugby that look like they will take a serious hit.

NZR's press release critically stated that in regards to the Mitre 10 and Farah Palmer Cup they would 'look to preserve the integrity of those competitions where they could', which is hardly promising for the men's and women's provincial competitions - especially since the second tier Heartland Championship has already been canned.

Below that, there's the almost lifeless corpse of club rugby, which needed a significant investment to keep it sustainable and running even without the Covid-19 situation.

Women's rugby in particular looks set to suffer badly, if the Farah Palmer Cup is indeed called off then that will leave probably nothing in the way of top level women's rugby one year out from New Zealand hosting the World Cup.

Planned tours by France and England, the two strongest opponents the Black Ferns have, will almost certainly be cancelled given the border restrictions likely to be in place for the foreseeable future.

Beauden Barrett shares a laugh with Blues coach Leon MacDonald.

Blues Fans will finally get to see Beauden Barrett play in their colours this year. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

The only glimmer of hope is another potential two test series against Australia later in the year, however, the Wallaroos have proven to be a hopelessly outmatched opposition over the past two seasons and will likely be even worse this time around given the perilous state of the game across the Tasman.

But for now, at least, we can look forward to seeing the All Blacks back on the park in their Super Rugby colours.

For one, it'll be a milestone with Beauden Barrett finally making his debut for the Blues.

After their promising start to the season though, the team's back office must be tearing their hair out at the fact that he'll do so in front of an empty Eden Park.