Provincial pride is what matters

Photo: File.

Thank goodness for the Mitre 10 Cup, which kicked off last night at North Harbour.

There is a desperate need for the rugby competition that gives fans more than just a few moments to savour that the underwhelming Investec Super Rugby produced.

If you exclude the outstanding New Zealand local derbies, this overrated, money-making event has little going for it. Going back a few years when 12 teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa competed, it was the world’s premier rugby competition.

But in their desperation to milk as much money out of television deals as possible, the governing SANZAR organisation has ripped the heart out of the competitive edge that was once there.

Now the talent pool and interest level over such a long, drawn out programme is diluted, with 15 teams, including a token Japanese outfit, even though this is a major improvement on the 18 teams that played the last two seasons.

Even in Christchurch there was apparent disconnect with the fan base as their team defended the title against the Lions from South Africa, who had flown halfway across the world to prepare for the final.

I believe the final should be played in a neutral venue, where both teams have the same physical preparation. It is not going to happen, but is something to look at for the future.

Reports out of SANZAR that they are looking to expand the competition into the USA and bring it back to 18 teams after 2020 is bad news for fans who love a real competition.

Which is why the Mitre 10 Cup is so special.

While fans relate to the Chiefs to a certain degree, it is nothing compared to how they feel about their respective Bay of Plenty, Waikato or Counties Manukau teams.

Home-grown provincial pride is what it is all about, with the best from the local club competition joining forces with Super Rugby players.

For the long suffering fans of the Bay of Plenty Steamers, there is much to look forward to.

Certainly there is now more depth of quality players than in the last decade, with a real opportunity to go a step further than last year when the Steamers came so, so close to beating Wellington in the Championship promotion final.

For years it seemed no one wanted to play here other than rugby journeymen after a last pay day, but now, under the watch of Maori All Blacks coach and Bay of Plenty Rugby’s Director of Coaching Clayton McMillan, it is a different story.

Some of the best young talent from the school First XVs in Auckland, Hamilton and Hawke’s Bay are adding depth to the Bay of Plenty Academy.

The Steamers open their campaign on Saturday with a tough assignment against Premiership side and Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki in Rotorua.

It will be a good test for the Steamers to begin a season that promises more than most in recent years.