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Super Rugby streamline a positive move

It’s a lot easier to put on weight than it is to take it off.

This I know having spent the last three months shedding eight kilos resulting from some fairly indulgent eating last year.

Getting that eight kgs off took a lot more effort than putting it on, and maybe Super Rugby is going through a similar process.

Having resolved to shed some weight, there is some pain to be felt before Sanzar can implement its streamlined product next year.

An 18-team competition was deeply flawed, over-ambitious, and, like everything in Super Rugby up to this point, driven by the self-serving motives of the individual nations.

Sanzar has taken a necessary step here by reverting to an easier to understand format, which should raise the quality and hopefully stem some of the bleeding we have seen in terms of TV audiences and stadium crowds.

The best games are still great and we had two of them at the weekend in particular. The rugby in Cape Town and Dunedin was as good as it gets at this level, but there have also been too many like the Kings Force game in Perth…a really good contest, just not enough people who cared about it.

I am rather surprised South Africa agreed to shed two teams. I guess it’s a reflection of the exodus of players overseas and the current state of the South African economy that they have agreed to drop two. Saru appears to be doing due diligence to determine which teams must go.

It may be only short term.

There’ll be another review in a couple of years time before the next TV deal is due up, and I suspect if Japan doesn’t show more of a commitment to the Sunwolves, their expansion venture honeymoon will become a divorce, no matter how lucrative their market is. If so there could be a vacancy and a return to five South African teams.

There’s an upside.

A concentration of forces will make both the South African and Australian challenge stronger, and could well promote greater success.

Fewer teams might hopefully allow Saru to ride through the current financial malaise, and, with the domestic restructuring currently mooted, they’ll come out of it in good shape. Hopefully.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an attempt to reshape the South African model, a move to franchise teams separate from the provincial identity, as has worked so well in New Zealand.

Or will provincial rivalry and pride in tradition hold sway, and those teams dropped simply continue to exist as feeders?

And I guess there’s always the potential influence of the government. Will they step in to enforce the continued presence of the Kings?

These things will still have to be worked through.

Whereas in South Africa there appears to be a message, in Australia there is just a mess. Only after the threat of legal action have the ARU appeared to set up a proper procedure to establish which team should exit.

There is anger. Clearly having to cut a team is a blow to the pride of Australian rugby, and while there must be sympathy for fans who are going to have their team taken away from them and players who are going to lose their job, there’s been little or no consideration for what is actually best for the competition.

Everyone is looking for someone to blame, with most of the bricks being thrown at the ARU, but among the outrage are unfounded media accusations that New Zealand has played a big hand in them losing a team.

It’s been revealed that Australia went to New Zealand and proposed a new Trans Tasman competition, with no South Africa, or anyone else for that matter.

New Zealand Rugby, quite rightly, didn’t want to know about it.

For starters South Africa’s location on the map might factor into the vast amount of travel teams have to do, and we do get frustrated in New Zealand at games involving our teams being played in the middle of the night, but the time zone is a key to Sanzar tapping into the lucrative European TV market. People who think a Trans Tasman competition could generate the same amount of revenue as Super Rugby have no idea.

And it seems our players still relish the challenge of a trip to South Africa. Tackling that challenge head on has formed a big part in forging the mental skills that have been a major factor in New Zealand's current position in the game.

And after what we saw at Cape Town, why would anyone want to end that?

Which is a nice way of getting off the politics and into what we really love, the game.

It was the biggest test yet for the Stormers, and they came through it with flying colours.

It was a stupendous game, featuring two of the best end-to-end tries you would imagine, one from the Chiefs, who showed their extraordinary ability to play a multi-touch passing game, the other featuring a hall of fame offload from Dillyn Leyds to send the increasingly impressive SP Marais in.

I’m picking two years ago, Leyds, or any of his team mates, didn’t throw that pass. It was a thing of wonder.

Perhaps the injection of some outside thinking in the form of Paul Feeney has helped unlock the door to a game that has been bolted away for two long.

There wasn’t a lot in it. Each forward pack had their moments of dominance, and in the end it was actually the Stormers' old friend defence that got them home as they held out a Chiefs attack that produced some scintillating moments, but was not as clinical as they can be in turning pressure into points.

It will be a huge boost to the Stormers at the start of the key few weeks, with the Lions next and then a tough three-game trip to New Zealand that could define their season.

The Chiefs will be disappointed by their defeat, but there was some class shown in the way Aaron Cruden front-footed the post-match interview, crediting the opposition, talking up the quality of the game and not bothering with any excuses.

The other standout match was in Dunedin, where the Highlanders outlasted the Blues in a tremendous derby match.

It was bruising stuff, and one that reminds us that even if the all-New Zealand games are good for business, they can really take a toll of the players.

I had the privilege of calling that one, but spent the time beforehand watching the Bulls suffer an embarrassing defeat in Tokyo.

Thing is with the Sunwolves, teams can’t afford to drop their guard. They play adventurous rugby and can split a defence open with their offloading and pace. They had no time to develop a defensive system before the season started, but it is improving, and as with most teams who play the Bulls, they know it’s really about standing your ground as big men run at you.

It could have been different had Jan Serfontein not needlessly been yellow carded and had Francois Brummer kicked an entry level penalty goal, but pressure does funny things to people.

Now the Bulls are in a real hole, 16 points out of the playoff picture nearing the halfway point. I really did think they would be better this year, but they’re not, at least not yet.

The Sharks are certainly better, scoring an important win in the three-way battle in Africa Two group that will almost certainly decide which two go through to the playoffs with the Stormers. They don’t look like a team that will rip a side apart, but they are proving to be very tough.

The Crusaders had the weekend off, giving up the overall lead (on the table that Sanzar says doesn’t exist) to the Stormers on points difference, but they will be back this week with Kieran Read on deck for the first time this season, and others returning from injury.

The Hurricanes made hard work of a game they looked set to win by 40 points against the Waratahs. They got there eventually in the face of a determined Bernard Foley-led fightback by the ‘Tahs, but made it tough for themselves.

Beauden Barrett was red-carded for two deliberate knock-ons. They were both fair enough calls, and it’s just a shame this aspect of play continues to be so inconsistently policed.

There were two games in Australia….the Brumbies finding some nice attack against a Reds side that is imploding, and a game on Sunday between two teams that might find the rest of the season very tough to contemplate.

I’d like to see the Force survive. There is a genuine rugby following in Western Australia and removal will hit the game harder there than it would in Melbourne, which is preoccupied with other sports.

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