No More Buses, No More Beers: Grizzled Kiwi Veteran Reckons Pro Rugby Is No Fun Anymore
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No More Buses, No More Beers: Grizzled Kiwi Veteran Reckons Pro Rugby Is No Fun Anymore

"They’re don’t know the beers after a Thursday night. They don’t know the bus trips to away matches. They know none of that and I do – that’s what I grew up in."
May 22, 2017, 8:45pm

Somewhere in the bowels of RDS Stadium in Dublin late last Friday night, Hayden Triggs sat down in the Leinster sheds, unwrapped his strapping, untied his boots and strung them on a hook in his locker.

After a 15-year career spanning from New Zealand to Japan and Ireland, Triggs had just played his last game of rugby as Leinster was defeated 27-15 by Scarlets in their Pro12 semi-final.

The 35-year-old Kiwi - a towering lock - looks like a rugby player of another generation; perhaps more suited to hard knocks of the 1960s Colin Meads era where rugby was amateur, blokes had a job during the week – and cracked a beer after the match on a Saturday afternoon.

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With his time finally up on his career, Triggs - who once played for the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders back in New Zealand - certainly feels like a rugby orphan of that Land Before [Pro Rugby] Time.

A man who started playing semi-pro for Manawatu as a New Zealand Army mechanic that ended up his time on the paddock with two big money contracts in Japan and Ireland. For some, the transition from beers in the bus to high profile year-round rugby has been a blessing. Not for Triggs, though.

"I started when it was semi-pro and just starting [out] professionally," Triggs, 35, told the Irish Times, last week.

"The game is different [now], and it's almost like I don't like it anymore. As professionals, we're paid to do this, that's kind of our product. The game is what I love, I've said that before, but all the shit around it is hard."

"I see the guys who have just retired, sadly passing away or having heart complications or, the worst-case scenario, committing suicide."

Triggs' retirement - and reflections on how the game has changed - come just weeks before one of rugby's few remaining great international traditions is about to roll out; the Lions tour.

Since their first official tour, to South Africa in 1910, the British and Irish Lions have been heading out to the old colonies in rugby's original test of who was best: the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern.

Drawing from the Home Unions, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand would host the men in the red jumpers for a number of tests and – even more importantly – dozens of mid-week games against home provinces or rep teams.

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Before rugby turned pro in the old Tri Nations, the tours were legendary. British internationals billeted in homes in places like Rotorua or Gisborne, nights out on the booze and bus rides between small towns.

Provincial parks crammed packed of supporters, yearning to see their boys – farmers, chippies and clerks in those days – take on the Best of British.

Back then, rugby was fun. Real fun. No longer.

A Lions tour now is a totally production, where tradition and history has been traded for slickness. For the first time ever in the upcoming Lions tour to New Zealand next month (only the second since rugby went pro in New Zealand), the tourists will not play a Kiwi provincial team – instead doing battle with the five Super Rugby franchises, despite the side's rarely recording full houses for home games.

From a competitiveness point-of-view, the Super Rugby match-ups makes some sense – and a handful of All Blacks will be released for the early mid-week games. Yet once history is washed away, it's washed away for good.

Then you look at the team itself; with more blokes in it who were born in New Zealand's North Island than Scotland.

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The tests will reach huge numbers of viewers worldwide and could well be thrilling affairs; but that's not the point. The point is the old days are gone for Lions tour – and maybe the fun has too.

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Rugby in New Zealand has been under siege for the last 18 months after a series of scandals and administrative cock-ups that have seen some question its role in Kiwi society.

One of the incidents that shook up New Zealand was when All Black halfback Aaron Smith was caught having a sexual liaison with a woman in a Christchurch Airport toilet. Part of the 'incident' was recorded by a bystander on his phone.

While Smith's actions were unbelievably dumb, the recording of it – and resulting often contradictory media fall-out from it - irks Triggs most about how rugby has been transformed. The spotlight is never off players; one slip and you're damned.

"Look what social media has done to society in general, and the light is even brighter on rugby and sportspeople in general," Triggs said, to the Irish Times.

"They're under the spotlight even when they're not in a Leinster shirt. In New Zealand - and it's a bit different here [in Ireland] - but a sportsman runs a red light and there's a dude with a camera giving it to him and going to report it to the cops.

"There's so much pressure and stress and that's what these young kids are coming into. They're don't know the beers after a Thursday night. They don't know the bus trips to away matches. They know none of that and I do – that's what I grew up in.

Rugby ain't going back to the good old days that Triggs hopes for. In some respects, that's good – especially in New Zealand. For too long, rugby players could get away with anything in much of New Zealand with little consequences.

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The worm is starting to turn on that front - just look at last year's Losi Filipo scandal. Women have even been brought onto the New Zealand Rugby board, too.

Is Rugby A 'Get Out Of Jail Free' Card in New Zealand?

Yet the soul of Kiwi rugby – hell, any team sport that New Zealanders bother to play - is still in the changing sheds after the match; a few bruised combatants knocking stubbies together and talking about a game hard fought – and well-played.

"I'm an old-school guy," Triggs summed up, in his interview.

"I've done well to keep going in this game. I've been able to adapt, that's just my personality. Body-wise, physically, I could keep going for another two years, but mentally, I'm done."