Sydney and NSW Country need to ‘step it up’ in the NRC to honour the history of the state rivalry, former Waratahs and Wallabies flanker Simon Poidevin says.
Poidevin has been critical of the NRC’s lack of tribalism but said the reduction of the NSW teams into a City and Country team was ultimately a positive move, as long as they began to raise the bar.
Both sides have struggled in their first two games of the competition, sitting in the bottom two spots on the ladder.
The Rays have also been hit with a host of injuries, leaving them on the hunt for extra players to step into the frame.
A Wednesday night clash at Leichhardt Oval will give them a chance to get on the board in a return to the classic Sydney-Country derbites.
“I think it's very positive that you've got a Sydney-Country like the Queensland Country and Brisbane City team is there,” Poidevin said.
“It's very positive that's happened. I just think the players have got to understand the very proud history of the jumper they're wearing and start to step it up.”
The lines of city and country aren’t as defined as they once were, with the remnants of NRC tournaments past keeping players like Jake Gordon and Tolu Latu in country colours despite being raised in the city.
"Back in my day to be totally honest you had to play in the country to play in the country team but that's not the case (now) but it's a good start (to return to it),” he said.
“You've got to make the NRC tribal and to have NSW country, clearly they're led by Paddy Ryan who's incredibly proud of his country origins so that's good.
"He's got those guys very organised and they're very proud to be a country team and likewise the Sydney Rays, it's a great opportunity for that team to really build towards that great Sydney history which is there for people to see.”
Poidevin played for Sydney during the team’s heyday in the 1980s and early 90s and was in the side that beat the All Blacks in Penrith back in 1992, with a host of Wallabies legends among the group.
That team would take on visiting international sides and tour for weeks at a time, building a strong connection, something these two modern day don’t have the luxury of.
Both sides were brought together in the week of their first game and Poidevin said that was showing in the first two weeks.
“I just think that club teams consistently play together and you have 18 rounds and four trials coming into it,” he said.
“The NRC's a pretty short competition and unless you've got very strong combinations already in place it can be a challenge.
“That's a challenge for Sydney and Country sides who get a lot of players for different clubs.
“You go back to the Sydney sides of the 80s we toured Europe for a month, we used to tour New Zealand for three game tours.
“You'd build great combinations out of those tours and then you came back and played for your club so that's the way that Sydney side worked.”
The NSW sides’ slow start has brought criticism onto the squads for putting too much of a focus on developing players rather than bringing the cream of the club rugby crop into the teams.
Poidevin, whose son Christian made his Rays debut in round two, said a balance needed to be struck in that area.
“You've got a mixture of professional players and players who are trying to break into the professional ranks so again that's a situation where you've got to get that balance as well,” he siad.
‘I think we're seeing Rugby Australia thinking more and more about how they provide pathways for young talent to stay in the game rather than go to rugby league or AFL or go and play with the Crusaders in New Zealand or go and play in Japan or go and play in Europe.
“They've got to create a competition here that gives those players the belief they can play their best rugby here and then have a pathway to potentially play for a Super Rugby team or play for the Wallabies."
Regardless of their challenges and the blurred geographic lines that exist in the modern sides, Poidevin said there should be plenty of pride and rivalry between the two sides on Wednesday night.
“I think there will be a really strong feeling between the Country and City team in the upcoming game and that's only a good thing because Country have got a point to prove and hopefully the Sydney boys know that they're going to (have to) elevate themselves from two early losses and they’re playing a team where there's a lot of players they know well so there's a lot of rivalry there.”
The Sydney Rays take on NSW Country on Wednesday September 17, kicking off at 7:30pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.