New Zealand Black Ferns v Australia Wallaroos
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 26: The Black Ferns during the haka during the International Test match between the New Zealand Black Ferns and Australia Wallaroos at North Harbour Stadium on October 26, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Watts/Getty Images)

With high expectations, New Zealand rugby fans go into this year with an eye on many objectives. This covers the full width of the national union; from school level to representative. With a strong fan base here, and supporters spread across the globe, that gives plenty of opportunity to meet 2017 goals for NZ rugby.

2017 Goals for NZ Rugby

Every team needs a goal. There is little; theoretically, between a Heartland Championship provincial team, and a first choice Super Rugby side.  They both have a will to win, and the desire to perform over an 80 minute match. That has been, and always will be the strength of New Zealand (NZ) rugby. Across the board, the game is taken seriously and the standards are ingrained from an early age.

Over this next eleven month calendar year, from the school yard to the test match venue, all teams will aim high. The range of goals for NZ rugby cover the highest profile, down to many fundamental competitions: Super Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup and club rugby.

As well as goals for the players, the organisation have goals too. A well organized and implemented season will take good planning and operations. In 2016, external issues impacted, so the goals of ‘Respect and Responsibility’ are still very important. This will occur in all levels of the game, and aim to bring the sport inline with society norms.

And the other important element will be player retention. The signing of key players will keep the successful group together, and there have been wins and losses so far. Owen Franks was retained, while Charlie Faumuina will leave at the conclusion of Super Rugby. Names that are part of the goals for NZ rugby are Kieran Read, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith are critical to the teams plans. Two, if not three of these men must be retained in 2017, to restrict the any detrimental loss of firepower.

Key Tournaments and Series

If 2017 is afforded it’s importance on the global calendar, it will be for two key tournaments or series. One will be contested by all Tier One playing nations, while the other only occurs once in a players lifetime.

WOMEN’S RUGBY WORLD CUP – Ireland

Scheduled for August, the tournament will be key to re-establishing the NZ women’s team–the Black Ferns (see main picture)–as probable World Champions. Hosted by Ireland, the venues across Dublin and Belfast should be full to overflowing, with the women’s game enjoying high numbers of girls taking up the game.

New Zealand must work extra hard to combat reigning Champions England, plus the host nation Ireland and France.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS – Three test series

This will be a focal point for rugby fans across two hemispheres. The British and Irish Lions are a composite side, made up of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish players. Led by head coach Warren Gatland, the side will aim to continue a strong heritage [est. 1888]. The tourists will arrive in groups this year, as some players will still be competing in European rugby competitions.

Touring NZ only once every 12 years, the Lions will be keen to avenge the 2005 tour. On that occasion, Sir Clive Woodward’s men were whitewashed 3-0, so this tour will have equal goals like the All Blacks will have.

The Lions face the challenge of the All Black Haka during the second test match between The New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions at the Westpac stadium on July 2, 2005 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Along with the three tests, there are also five matches where the lions face all Super Rugby franchise teams. The opening three fixtures will be a tough test [before the All Blacks assemble camp] before Colin Cooper will release the NZ Maori side on the tourists.

From that point on, there are three critical test matches that will determine if the 2017 Lions are remembered for more than just the size of the touring party – more than 100 strong, including players, management and staff.

NZ Rugby 2017 Calendar

January

  • National Sevens, Rotorua (Men and Women)
  • Wellington Sevens (Men)

The third round of the HSBC Sevens Series will set the All Black Sevens against the best. On home soil, they have done particularly well, but will a new interim coaching group be able to harness that potential?

  • All Black health camp, with squad members assessed for 2017 fitness programs

February

  • Sydney Sevens (Men and Women)
  • Brisbane Global Tens (Super Rugby sides)

The lead-up to the 2017 season proper, see’s a new competition debut. The inaugural Brisbane event see’s 14 teams from Europe [Toulon], South Africa [Blue Bulls], Japan [Wild Knights] and the Pacific [Samoa]. They are matched with all Super Rugby teams from Australia and New Zealand.

SUPER RUGBY 2017

In the second year of the new expansion, NZ teams will again face each other in some fantastic derby matches. They begin early, with Week One fixtures including the Highlanders v Chiefs. That high quality match-ups will continue unbroken until Round 16, before the inbound tours will halt the competition.

Ash Dixon of Highlanders is tackled by Facundo Isa of Jaguares during a match between Argentina and Highlanders as part of Super Rugby Rd 16 at Jose Amalfitani Stadium (Photo by Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent/Getty Images)

March

  • Super Rugby continues…
  • Las Vegas Sevens (Men and Women)
  • Vancouver Sevens (Mens)

April

  • Super Rugby continues…
  • Hong Kong Sevens (Men)
  • Singapore Sevens (Men)
  • Kitakyushu Sevens, Japan (Women)

May

  • Super Rugby continues…
  • Paris Sevens (Men)
  • London Sevens (Men) Final round
  • Langford Sevens, Canada (Women)
  • Under 20 World Championship, Georgia (Men): see full schedule here

This is more than likely an area where the NZ ‘Baby Blacks’ team can make improvements. Since winning the tournament when it was enacted by the IRB, results have fallen since the event was hosted in Auckland. After finishing fourth last year, Craig Philpott will drive his young team to recapture the success of years past.

June

  • Under 20 World Championship, Georgia (Men)
  • British and Irish Lions 2017 Tour: see full schedule here
  • International Test window – schedules to be advised for nations: Australia, Argentina and the Pacific Islands. South Afriva v France series confirmed.
  • Black Ferns Women’s XV – warm up games to be announced

July

  • British and Irish Lions: Test matches Two (Wellington) and Three (Auckland)
  • Super Rugby recommences
  • Clermont-Ferrand Sevens, France (Women) Final round

The New Zealand women’s team will hope that after the six round series, that the ‘Sevens Sisters’ have managed to secure enough tournament victories and points, to re-take the title back from Australia.

Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens: HSBC Sevens World Series - Day One
Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga of New Zealand runs with the ball during day one of the Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens on December 1, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
  • Black Ferns Women’s XV – final preparations

August

  • Super Rugby continues…
  • Women’s Rugby World Cup, Ireland

As mentioned earlier, the Black Ferns are keen to write their names on the World Cup. Having returned an unbeaten 2015/16 season, they go in with a superior record and players will certainly have the professionalism to see Glenn Moore’s team proceed far in the tournament.

  • The Rugby Championship

After the dominance shown in 2016; where the side went unbeaten and made new records, the TRC is still the standard for Southern Hemisphere superiority. But expect South Africa to aim all it’s efforts toward returning to a winning formula.

Beginning the campaign well, is key. Provide they had secured a series win over the Lions, expect the first Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney to be a key step. AUSvNZL – Aug 19, Sydney The All Blacks will hope to secure the trophy for the 15th straight year.

Bledisloe Cup
The Bledisloe Cup trophy is seen on display during an Australian Wallabies training session at Kinross Wolaroi School on August 5, 2014 in Orange, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The teams then play the reverese rubber, but this time in the near-perfect conditions of Forsyth-Barr Stadium, where the skill and finishing ability of the All Blacks will be at the fore. NZLvAUS – Aug 26, Dunedin

  • Farah Palmer Cup, Women’s Provincial Championship (schedule to be confirmed)
  • Mitre 10 Cup 2017 (schedule to be confirmed)
  • Heartland Championship (schedule to be confirmed)

September

  • The Rugby Championship continues: NZLvARG – New Plymouth, Sept 9 | NZLvRSA – Eden Park, Sept 16 | ARGvNZL – Buenos Aires, Sept 30
  • Farah Palmer Cup, Women’s Provincial Championship (tbc)
  • Mitre 10 Cup 2017 (tbc)
  • Heartland Championship (tbc)

October

  • The Rugby Championship concludes: RSAvNZL – venue: tbc, Oct 7
  • Final Bledisloe Cup – Brisbane, Oct 28
  • Mitre 10 Cup 2017 concludes (tbc)
  • Heartland Championship concludes (tbc)
Mitre 10 Cup Rd 2 - Canterbury v Tasman
Richie Mounga of Canterbury charges forward during the round two Mitre 10 Cup match between Canterbury and Tasman at AMI Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

By the conclusion of October, the best provincial sides (women’s and men’s) will be known. Canterbury may target a ninth title in the last ten years. Newly promoted North Harbour will hope to perform in the top-tier Premiership. In the Heartland Championship, Wanganui will aim for a third consecutive Meads Cup title.

November Internationals:

  • New Zealand v Barbarians, Twickenham – Nov 4
  • France v New Zealand, Paris – Nov 11
  • Scotland v New Zealand, Edinburgh – Nov 18
  • Wales v New Zealand, Cardiff – Nov 25

Even at the conclusion of this ten month schedule, New Zealand Rugby will still have goals unfulfilled. This includes the (as of now) second ranked International side; England. The fact they have not faced each other since 2014, only makes this fixture as one of the most desirable.

While the challenge of building a congruent ‘global calendar’ before 2019 a shared goal of World Rugby, and all parties affected, the single fixture of ENGvNZL is the key. If Ian Ritchie and Steve Tew can put aside personal ego and financial gains, then the focus of most fans could be signed off. That should be the goal, not who shares the gate. Those challenges can be put aside, so that the true number one ranked side is known, before the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Many Goals Can Be Achieved in 2017

In a perfect world, NZ rugby may succeed in all competition. No, that would be idealism, and Last World On Rugby need to be pragmatic. ‘You can’t win everything’. The goals of one nation will always cross those of others; South Africa must regain their status, Ireland will be the confident they can claim Under 20 glory and Australia will believe their women’s side can retain their Sevens Series title.

Not to list each singularly, but the chance is high that a NZ franchise might claim Super Rugby success. The British and Irish Lions will find it hard to win more than one test match, with the All Blacks taking the series 2-1. But that single victory could see the long undefeated home record broken.  Just as Ireland broke the 18 match winning sequence, the way the team react will be a test for Steve Hansen’s men (if it occurs at all).

But all these dates and matches are yet to be seen, each encounter is yet to be played, and that is the anticipation for the NZ rugby fans. From the men’s and women’s sevens teams, Super Rugby and Provincial sides, fans will hold high hopes. From the All Black Sevens, Baby Blacks and Black Ferns–they all have fixed goals ahead of them. The latter will be the most motivated, to reclaim their World Champion crown, and might well be assured a title, considering 2016 form.

But for every one of these sides efforts, they will be supported by a fan base of five million New Zealanders. And that should be motivation enough.

“Main photo credit”

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