For anyone who loves the game of Rugby Union like I do, you’ll recognise the importance of having a competitive provincial tournament outside of the franchise competitions.
Some of New Zealand’s best rugby is played within our beloved ITM Cup and it’s the home of big scores, shock upsets and unfamiliar players gracing the footy field.
It’s the proving ground for a lot of young players and ultimately where the next ‘Invincibles’ of world rugby will be playing against each other. Without it, our international and franchise teams would be far worse off.
With all that said and done, you won’t catch me at a game.
Why not? It’s not the ticket prices, or the half time entertainment and certainly not the level of rugby; it’s the location.
When I watch an ITM cup game on TV, everything is great right up until they do a crowd pan after a try.
Apart from Uncle Barry in his full Wellington regalia alongside Aunty Ngaire with flags and face paint, there is hardly a soul in sight. When your local team of North Harbour has a fan base limited to about 13 of the starting 15, QBE looks like an absolute joke.
The solutions I’ve heard so far usually revolve around lowering ticket prices or allowing BYO alcohol to the games. My solution; take the games to much much smaller venues.
Who in their right minds wants to be one of 200 people siting in the main stands of Eden park? ITM Cup teams need to sit down and realise their place in New Zealand Rugby. Granted they are a step on the ladder from your local club side playing ‘Down the road RFC’, but if provincial rugby doesn’t recognise that they are only the next step up, attendance won’t be getting any higher.
At this point, New Zealand is heading towards a point where regular rugby fans will get bored with the massive amounts of rugby being played. With the introduction of the Super Rugby tournament in the 90s, the national rugby calendar is crammed with so much rugby, it’s difficult to keep up.
Watching the ITM Cup trying to fill New Zealand’s premier rugby grounds is like watching a toddler stomping around in Dad’s gumboots; cute, adorable, even optimistic, but ultimately wasted.
The ITM cup needs to shift into smaller venues and cherish the local support they get. Rather than trying to fill up Eden Park, or Forsyth Barr stadium, get the majority of matches being played on local club grounds.
Top it off with a BBQ from the Mad Butcher and free rides in Constable McDonald’s police car for the kids, the ITM holds the potential to create a venue where true provincial rugby can be played, rather than the pseudo-professional grade it is trying to pretend to be.
Logistically, all of the broadcasting requirements can still be met alike the Heartland Cup broadcasts, and the difference in playing conditions marginal.
I love the ITM cup, I might even love it more than the Super Rugby due to the style of rugby that is played, but if we want to see an increase in public participation with the tournament, something needs to happen, and that something is a downsize in venue.