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Surely Super Rugby needs a rethink?


Am I the only one who has been very disappointed with the series of leaks surrounding Vodacom Super Rugby’s future?

After all, the "South-Africa-wants-to-go-it-alone club in Sydney have seen these rumours of a split before, and they haven’t come to much

So why should the latest series of revelations about the future of the Southern Hemisphere tournament be so disappointing?

Ok, let’s be honest. Super Rugby is more of a marathon nowadays than a sprint. It is a competition where the drama and intrigue seems to lose its value in the middle rounds, gets stunted by a June break that causes some sides to lose momentum and then fast forwards to a convoluted, travel-biased finals series that sees the home sides dominate and tries to keep everyone involved.

In short, the competition seems to be losing its shine because it tries to please too many people. More is better is the watchword, and while it has done its bit to provide Australia with a host of games they never had before, it has devalued other competitions in the process and stretched patience of the average fan.

There is no doubt that the competition needs refining. It needs to be looked at, changed to make travel less of a factor, player welfare more important and make it more attractive than what is being dished up now.

At the moment injuries are a key factor in any team’s chances, and often those teams who have a series of injuries at the start of the competition miss out on playoffs because they can’t adapt in time.

I suppose what has been the most disappointing in the series of leaks about the new proposals is the lack of vision shown by any of them.

If the Sydney Morning Herald is to be believed, and their sources are normally accurate, Sanzar will consider three proposals. The first being a continuation of the current system with all its flaws.

The second is a split in conferences, with a Trans-tasman conference comprising of New Zealand and Australian teams on the one side, and six South African franchises and possibly an Argentinean team on the other.

The third proposal involves expanding the competition further to Asia and the United States and Canada.

Like many others, my first reaction was to wait for a fourth proposal, something a bit more tasty, retaining the current teams but splitting the conferences into pools like the Heineken Cup so that the competition could retain its international flavour, but not be so heavily set on derbies.

But there was none.

And now, I’m guessing like many other rugby fans out there, I’m wondering where the lack of ambition comes from. Surely this can’t be the only options available to Sanzar in the current market?

Surely the South African Rugby Union would not only favour a competition which would look, feel and taste like another Currie Cup, even with Argentinean flavour included?

Crowd figures have continued to decline in the competition this year across the board, and apart from the wonderful crowds in Port Elizabeth for the Kings, there are worrying signs out there.

Even the Bulls, notorious for their fortress, could only lure 37 000 spectators for the semifinal, the least amount of fans that have ever turned up for a playoff game at the stadium.

The economic downturn may play a part in this, but you seriously start wondering how much of a factor rugby fatigue has to do with this?

Quantity doesn’t always mean quality, and the same problems foreseen at the start of the new system, with its over-reliance on derbies, keeps on cropping up.

One thing is clear, with the crowds, the television audiences and the sponsors, South Africa offer way more than their Sanzar alliance partners and whether they like it or not, the Australians and New Zealanders need South Africa for one simple reason other than our crowds and clout.

By having South Africa in the equation, Antipodean teams get themselves broadcast in prime weekend sporting time in European markets. Without it, they are just another early morning distraction. Rugby at the other end of the world is nice, but if you want the money to follow, the big rugby markets of England and France need to be a factor.

Which brings us back to South Africa, and what exactly will be best for the local market.

European competitions have been successfully thriving for a while now and South Africa will need to make it attractive to their competitions to add the extra expense and logistical challenges to the Heineken Cup. Simply being in the same time zone won’t be the only factor.

And then there is the question of how to integrate six teams into an already congested European season.

Saru need to find a viable situation to let the Kings thrive without killing off another franchise, so six franchises are key in this argument.

And with that in mind, it should be rather obvious why a seven-team conference, including an Argentinean flavour, may not be the best way to go.

Why would you rob the international flavour of the competition simply to implement an expanded version of the Currie Cup? Surely there has to be more to the proposal than we’ve read, because, on the face of it, it simply doesn’t make sense.

Careful decisions need to be taken at Sanzar level, and Saru know this. Being too lenient the last time around saw Australia reap the rewards of the conference system, while the other two countries have suffered.

Players are leaving in droves to markets with higher earning potential, less rugby and a chance at a prolonged rugby career.

Instead of more matches, a condensed season that looks after all of these concerns could be the answer, and even leave place for a few international teams in the mix.

With so many games on a weekend now, fans will be hard pressed to remember anything noteworthy from last week, let alone two weeks ago.

Quality needs to be the priority and the guardians of the game need to think long and hard about this.

Three proposals are on the table, and all three are flawed at the moment.

The fans, the players and all the role players deserve some more thought into the process.


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