All Black test takes a backseat to 12s chat

3:56 pm on 12 September 2021

Comment: There's another Sunday evening test for the All Blacks, but all the talk this week has been on things happening far away from the Gold Coast, where they are due to meet the Pumas.

All Black Ofa Tu'ungafasi in action against Argentina.

All Black Ofa Tu'ungafasi in action against Argentina in 2018. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

A few short weeks ago, Ian Foster making five changes to his starting lineup, including a third new captain for the season, would have caused some major headlines and some serious scrutiny. But even he, the perennial narrative subject in these last two seasons, seems to have been spared the glare of the spotlight.

There is a pretty obvious reason for this on the face of it.

Of the two Rugby Championship tests being played this weekend, the All Blacks v Pumas is definitely of lesser interest than the Wallabies meeting with the Springboks. The world champions have come ashore after being adrift from the tournament for the last two years, with what many feel is a bit of a point to prove after their dire series win against the British & Irish Lions.

The Wallabies have made a splash themselves, reanimating the corpse of Quade Cooper to start at first five in what is clearly a desperate move by Dave Rennie, who needs some results soon to justify his employment status.

The poor guy can only play the hand he's been dealt, though; it must be galling to watch the NRL every weekend and see the halves talent on display there that could be harnessed for his side.

Quade Cooper.

Quade Cooper is back in the green and gold strip. Photo: Photosport

Brodie Retallick will lead the All Blacks for the first time in his career against the Pumas, which barely elicited any excitement from the 86-test veteran on the All Blacks' Zoom call press conference on Saturday.

It is hard to blame him though, it is clear that Foster has given a group of senior players - rather than any one man - more of a cohesive relationship to run the side. So the only real change Retallick has to make is remembering to stand at the front of the haka.

But even that isn't what's caused the most chatter this week, with the announcement of plans for a new professional 12-a-side competition to start next year.

'Announcement' being the operative word here because there really is no real substance on display on the website that has chosen to feature a middle-aged rich guy as their hero image. If it's going to be the revolutionary sort of shakeup the organisers claim the sport needs, this was a particularly underwhelming start.

It is hard to disagree with that core principle though, but like all innovations for rugby it's just hard to see where and how World 12s fits into a not only congested, but hemispherically split game so that nothing is ever going to be at the right time for anyone.

The people behind the World 12s didn't even hide the fact that they want to be the rugby version of the IPL, which shows full well that the main intention is to try and make a lot of money.

While that comes off as a bit distasteful or even more than a bit delusional, it is probably worth taking seriously that at least the World 12s are pointing in an interesting direction.

The success of the IPL isn't so much down to the on-field product, but rather the fact that it ripped the control of cricket away from its traditional power-brokers and into the hands of people who have literally been able to reorganise the way the cricket season works.

No one who plays the game is complaining, as players are getting paid huge sums of money to play T20 cricket and the effect that it has had on turbo-charging the women's game can't be ignored.

That's why it's laudable for the World 12s to include, even in this very embryonic stage, plans for a women's version with equal player payments, which would be in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

If this was to eventuate, it would represent a seismic shift in women's rugby, which is definitely something worth taking seriously.

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