So long to the Land of the Long White Cloud
NEW ZEALAND LETTER:Certainly there is every likelihood Ireland won’t tour New Zealand again until 2024. From a feast to a famine.
IF YOU thought this season was preposterously long – a competitive campaign lasting 48 weeks and entailing a record 17 Tests – then here’s a thought; this corresponding Saturday next June will merely be the first of a three-Test Lions series in Australia which will extend into the second Saturday in July. Ye Gods.
It already appears a little odd to be bidding farewell to New Zealand, conceivably for
the last time in a dozen years (which has perplexed many here) save for the Lions tour in five years’ time. Including the Lions of ’05 and last year’s World Cup, and dating back to the 1997 A/Development (aka the Arrested Development tour) which was finished off with one game in Samoa, some of us have been to the Land of the Long White Cloud eight times in the last 16 years.
New Zealand rugby has experienced an extraordinary player and coaching drain in that time, to all over Europe and Japan especially, due primarily to economic factors.
This has assuredly weakened its strength in depth, but it remains the toughest place to tour, and by the same extension can be the most rewarding in the longer term, as it exposes players and coaches to the highest standards.
Partly, though, it is due to the frequency with which some Tier One countries play each other that prompted the International Rugby Board to foster a more varied and at the same time level playing field. Back in May 2010, the game’s governing body confirmed the new schedule which came into being this June following the implementation of the 2012-2019 IRB Tours and Test schedule.
Their motivations were understandable; uppermost amongst them being one of equity, with less picking and choosing amongst the elite of the world game and thus more opportunity for all.
There were commercial factors, for sure. There always are. But the schedules also integrated the Tier Two countries more, as heretofore the Tier One countries would avoid playing them for commercial reasons and, perhaps, rugby reasons. Aside from the increased revenue for Tier Two countries, this ought to make them more competitive and benefit the world game, not least at World Cup time.
In addition to the return of three-Test series, the IRB also want to encourage expanded tours by the countries from the Six Nations to take in midweek matches – an option which Ireland were not of a mind to avail of in New Zealand of all places at the end of an 11-month season, given how playing resources are so stretched. This would have meant taking another 15 or 20 players at least, which in turn would have meant even more players making delayed returns to their provinces for pre-season training. The Irish Under-21s are also competing annually in the Junior World Cup.