New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson optimistic over future of game after challenging 2023

After a year saw that saw handed up no shortage of challenges for New Zealand Rugby, the organisation is optimistic about the game's future    

Chief executive Mark Robinson concedes rugby faces ongoing difficulties and change is clearly needed to improve the product both on and off the field, but he's confident about the direction it's going.    

At the end of a long and at times tricky year, Robinson has plenty to mull over heading into 2024.   

"We know more than anyone and we're our own harshest critics," he told Newshub. "We've got a lot of work to do to keep improving the game." 

Mark Robinson.
Mark Robinson. Photo credit: Photosport

The Super Rugby trophy stayed on this side of the Tasman. The All Blacks were just pipped in the World Cup final, titles for both sevens sides, and the Black Ferns team started to find their feet again.   

"We know the game can be amazing," Robinson continued. "We see some incredible contests.   

"But we want to make sure that more consistently, we're seeing those great contests."   

Because if they are, Robinson feels the crowds will come. Declining interest in Super Rugby remains a point of contention.   

Attendance was poor for large parts of Super Rugby, while at Mt Smart, the Warriors were riding a wave of success and popularity in the NRL.   

Those standards set by the Warriors have left NZ Rugby with a clear target in mind for 2024 and beyond.  

"Our events teams and marketing teams will be looking into all of that, as well as the clubs," Robinson said.   

"They'll be pulling apart all the possibilities that sit within some of those learnings."   

First and foremost, the establishment of an independent commission to run Super Rugby Pacific is badly overdue.

At present, the competition is run conjointly between NZR and Rugby Australia, where self-interest has at times stood in the way of progress. 

Poor crowds remain a problem for New Zealand Rugby.
Poor crowds remain a problem for New Zealand Rugby. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Ultimately, it will come down to having the right leader in there, [and] having the right support around," said Robinson.   

While Super Rugby came under criticism, so did the NPC.   

In August, the competition was deemed unsustainable in its current format in the recently released governance review.   

Robinson feels NZ Rugby is finding the answers to improve that product.   

"[There was] some really positive feedback around some of the smaller boutique stadia," he said. "[There were] a lot more day games this year, a lot more family friendly. That might be a bit of a hint at things that are starting to work for the competition."   

But one of Robinson's biggest moves this year was the introduction of a new All Blacks coaching group.   

NZR broke with tradition when they handed Scott Robertson the reins on a four-year deal in March, seven months before the end of the World Cup.  

Robinson is excited about what's to come under Robertson.    

"He's clearly got some fresh thinking," Robinson added. "[There's] a nice mix of continuity and a bit of freshness in his management team. 

"[He] brings a natural enthusiasm and optimism."   

That optimism is shared by Robinson as he plots rugby's path forward.   

"The game always has a way of findings its way through these challenges to come out the other side in a better space."   

And 2024 will be the year to put those words into actions for New Zealand Rugby.