There's an interesting scenario this Sunday in Auckland. The Blues and Warriors will both play home games at the same time in their hometown, for what might be the first time ever.

They have played at the same time before on a few occasions, particularly during the last few years when the Warriors were based in Australia due to travel restrictions, but Mt Smart and Eden Park opening their doors at the same time is a rare event.

There's a few moving parts. It's a huge extended weekend for live sport in Auckland, with the All Whites playing China last night, Saturday seeing the Black Caps and Sri Lanka in a T20 then Moana Pasifika and the Hurricanes, then Sunday's league and rugby clash.

On paper, it feels like the Warriors will get the bigger crowd and probably TV ratings, given that it's the first proper home game of their promising start to the arduous NRL season.

The Blues have named an understrength team for their game against the Force, who are hardly a drawcard themselves.

But it just seems like such a come down for the Blues, after the high of last weekend's match against the Crusaders. 24,000 came through the Eden Park gates, the game day experience had a lot of effort put into it and the game lived up to the hype - even if the Blues were on the wrong side of the result.

To be fair, because of the cricket on Saturday night, the Blues have been pushed to the Warriors' traditional Sunday afternoon time slot. But with a bit of creative thinking, this could have been something different if the fixtures had been brought together as a double header at one venue.

Don't laugh too hard, the two teams were all set to do just that almost exactly three years ago until… well, you know what happened.

It was described by Blues chairman Don MacKinnon as: "A way to compliment each other, not clash, so we're fully committed to working well with the Warriors going forward. We're fully committed to the project, we think it's going to be stunning."

Warriors chief executive Cameron George said: "This is the start of a great relationship between the two bodies."

Where did the love go? Covid-19 certainly played its part in shifting the landscape and perhaps hardening the NRL's attitude toward taking on NZ Super Rugby timeslots without fear, because despite the Warriors' well-documented woes, they still get eyeballs on screens.

The Blues, for their part, snared Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in perhaps not quite the sort of relationship that George envisioned.

The whole thing just feels like too much of an opportunity, one team's buzz could have been followed and built on by the other's, making a naturally harmonious narrative for long-suffering Auckland sports fans.

Maybe next year?

Aupiki winding up

Meanwhile, although Super Rugby Pacific is just getting started, Aupiki will be done by the time the Blues and Warriors simultaneously kick off.

The Chiefs Manawa head in as favourites for the final against Matatū, as well as getting home ground advantage. While the southern women have played some very good rugby, they are up against a Manawa side that will not let them go unpunished if they relinquish as much possession and territory as they did against the Blues Women last weekend.

Then, that's it for women's professional rugby in New Zealand for a while at least.

Contracted Black Ferns will still get paid, some of the players are hopping over to Australia to play in the Super W, while a handful more will show up in the NRLW later in the year.

For the rest, it's back to doing it for the love of it in club rugby, which kicks off across the country next weekend.

While it would be great to have Aupiki continue for at least a return round for each match, the players are unfortunately still very much needed to bolster local club competitions due to low senior player numbers.

NZ Rugby is hoping those numbers will change going forward, with the release of a new girl's and women's rugby strategy imminent.

But the balance has to be careful - if women's grassroots ends up suffering at the hands of professional rugby like the men's game has, the erosion will happen at a much faster and more drastic rate.


2023-03-24T00:42:22Z dg43tfdfdgfd