Rugby Guru

Does the Heineken Cup Have the Right Recipe?


Written by Neill Arnall (Rugby Guru)

Posted in :Original Content, Super 14 on 19 Jan 2009 at 09:12
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We are only a matter of weeks away from the start of Super XIV 2009 and while the debate will always rage as to which is the better competition – The Super 14 or the Heineken Cup – I don’t think we should be too quick to write off our Northern rivals. There is a lot to be said for the Heineken Cup….

For those of us who find cricket to be about as exciting as the first two hours of the movie Titanic, this time of the year can become quite a challenge. The merriment of the holidays have worn off and it is incredibly difficult if not impossible to get your weekly rugby fix! I would hardly describe myself as a Heineken Cup convert but having watched the last weekends games, I believe that there is a lot to be said for the Northern hemispheres premier competition.

Firstly, the composition of the teams make the games more interesting on some level. While the Super 14 may have more relevance to us because of the South African involvement, games between two New Zealand sides or two Aussie outfits can be a little bit tedious. I would imagine watching the Cheetahs play the Lions from the comfort of your living room in Fremantle must be the ultimate torture for any Australian rugby fan. Outside of key clashes many of the Super 14 games have little real relevance and I doubt there are many fans who watch every single encounter. The lure of the pound has created Heineken Cup teams that are far more cosmopolitan in make-up and there is something almost special about two SA halfbacks and two Kiwi centres in the same side.

The commentary teams at these games are really superb and its a joy not to have to listen to the biased Kiwi and Aussie ex players blowing smoke up their own asses or the droning on of the Supersport crews who are non-committal and avoid any form of controversy like the plague.

There is also a lot to be said for the atmosphere of the average Heineken Cup game. Rugby just seems more like rugby when played in small stadiums with rain pelting down and icy winds blowing across the pitch. A packed 15,000 seater also seems to have more character than a half empty cavern like Absa Stadium or Loftus.

I don’t doubt that the quality of rugby in the Super 14 is generally better, but sometimes (just sometimes) I can’t help thinking that the Southern hemisphere’s premier competition is become the same old same old! If SANZAR ever decide to revamp the Super 14 there is a lot to be learned from the Heineken Cup maybe not on the field but certainly in other areas.



60 Comments

  • Good piece, Let me give my 2cents worth.

    The HC comp certainly outstrips the S14 on a crowd atmosphere basis. there is the odd exception when two well supported teams clash in the S14.

    Sadly there is nothing really that SANZAR can do about that, it is not as if we can take our stadiums, break half of the seating down and move them all to within a few hundred kilometers of each other. it is almost as if one of our big assets, SPACE, actually counts against us.

    As a Super14 supporter who believes the competition is FAR superior to the HC, I would still give my left rugby ball to be sitting in the stands to watch Bath play Leicester on a cold UK evening

  • Comment 1, posted at 19.01.09 09:28:12 by KSA Shark © Reply
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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 1) :

    Conference system for Super rugby.

  • Comment 2, posted at 19.01.09 09:32:59 by MorneN Reply
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  • i think kings park always has a good croud in the super14

  • Comment 3, posted at 19.01.09 09:37:12 by willa Reply

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  • I guess NH rugby is slowly growing on me…the Wasps vs Leinster game was pretty entertaining.

    Agree with Oubaas about the issue of space working against us sometimes.

    The unions have to be creative WRT pricing and packages to ensure that the people leave their big screen TV’s and actually go to the stadium.
    A crowd of 30 000 @ R50 is way better than 15 000 people @ R80 per head.

    What happened to giving away cheap freebies at the stadium? Small flags, t-shirts, posters…stuff like that for the first 1000 people or so?

    As for the quality and pace of the rugby – I still think the SH is superior.

  • Comment 4, posted at 19.01.09 09:59:56 by blckshrk - PROTEAS Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 2) : correct… This ties in nicely with the arti you wrote.

  • Comment 5, posted at 19.01.09 10:04:44 by robdylan Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 2) :

    No I don’t like the idea of a conference system, it then effectively becomes a domestic competition and the best in that go through to the main comp.

    We HAVE a domestic competition and the best teams in THAT should play in the S14. THAT is how the HC works. The HC IS a conference system already except the early stage is played the season before. We do that already but our best teams just don’t change. (as to why they don’t change is a different issue)

    We are being suckered into an expanded S14 / conference system by the Aussies who don’t have a domestic competition.

  • Comment 6, posted at 19.01.09 10:08:22 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @robdylan (Comment 5) :

    Yeah, but crucially, and this is how the HC works, clubs/franchises are totally independent/privately owned.

    I would like a similar thing for SA specifically.

    SA Rugby offers 4 franchises for people to bid for – independents, not unions.

    This bid committee (SA Rugby together with Bok coach and management) then awards the franchises to 4 groups, regionally based – meaning that you have North, Central, East and South.

    They can base themselves anywhere in those 4 regions.

    Franchises then contract players/coaches etc. according to a draft system.

    Obviously the first year will see most guys playing up North being contracted to the North and South to South – that is logical.

    But after that, you get a draft in place where the lowest or weakest union gets first pick at the draft players – similar to NFL.

  • Comment 7, posted at 19.01.09 10:10:56 by MorneN Reply
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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 6) :

    Read my last comment.

    Given the lack of Boks in the CC it is hardly a right way to measure local strength for qualification for Super rugby.

  • Comment 8, posted at 19.01.09 10:16:05 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 8) :

    In fact, given last year’s result do you reckon either of the Cheetahs or Lions will outperform WP who did not qualify for the semi’s?

  • Comment 9, posted at 19.01.09 10:16:45 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 9) : I think the success of it absolutely DEPENDS on a full-strength domestic competition. So it might actually save the Currie Cup

  • Comment 10, posted at 19.01.09 10:17:41 by robdylan Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 10) :

    And boy it needs saving.

  • Comment 11, posted at 19.01.09 10:19:36 by MorneN Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 10) :

    Correct me if I am wrong.

    The HC and GP runs basically at the same time?

  • Comment 12, posted at 19.01.09 10:20:36 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 9) :

    No they won’t, but you can’t use that as an example WP had their Boks for almost half the season and still couldn’t qualify for the semi.

  • Comment 13, posted at 19.01.09 10:21:43 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 13) :

    Did they not win every game when their Boks returned?

  • Comment 14, posted at 19.01.09 10:24:15 by MorneN Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 10) :

    If you are refering to the conference system when you say IT then I disagree.

    The proposed conference system by the Aussies will see the S14 run until about August sometime. Add to that a CC and the players will play rugby the WHOLE year round. The top players will be pulled from the CC and it will become a glorified Vodacom cup.

  • Comment 15, posted at 19.01.09 10:29:03 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 12) : Yes. But only one at a time. If that makes sense.

  • Comment 16, posted at 19.01.09 10:30:11 by McLovin Reply

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  • For the record, I love the Heineken cup. Packed stadiums, whether that be 80,000 or 8,000, always seems to creative a nice atmosphere.

    And it is very tribal. Munster home games are probably the best.

  • Comment 17, posted at 19.01.09 10:32:39 by McLovin Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 16) :

    It does.

    @KSA Shark © (Comment 15) :

    Going on McLovin’s comment and how the HC and GP works, why is that system so far fetched? It is done, and is working in Europe.

  • Comment 18, posted at 19.01.09 10:33:52 by MorneN Reply
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  • The shorter distances visiting fans have to travel certainly makes a difference. There is almost always a healthy contingent of away fans.

    At the Leinster Wasps match there were 30 odd thousand people of which 7 thousand were from Leinster. That certainly adds to the atmosphere.

  • Comment 19, posted at 19.01.09 10:34:37 by McLovin Reply

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  • You do not play the same weekends obviously, and have breaks inbetween as I am sure it works in Europe, top players available for both comps.

  • Comment 20, posted at 19.01.09 10:34:54 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 18) : Yip, they play a few rounds of each comp at a time.

  • Comment 21, posted at 19.01.09 10:35:53 by McLovin Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 14) :

    Yes they did but with their Boks there they still dropped enough bonus points to not make the semi’s. With the team they had on paper they should have romped to victory over Griquas, Boland and the Lions

  • Comment 22, posted at 19.01.09 10:35:55 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 19) :

    Hence implement a conference system where travelling is minimized but you still get to see the best taking on the best, cracking derbies and each team playing every other team at least once in every two years.

  • Comment 23, posted at 19.01.09 10:36:08 by MorneN Reply
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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 22) :

    Point is they won every game with the Boks back.

    The CC as it currently stands and work cannot be used as a yardstick for Super rugby qualification.

  • Comment 24, posted at 19.01.09 10:37:11 by MorneN Reply
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  • Heineken cup consists of 5 pools matches and then Quarters, Semis and Final. So max 8 games to play.

  • Comment 25, posted at 19.01.09 10:38:55 by McLovin Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 18) :

    It is far fetched because in SA we have to look after the smaller unions.

    What happens to the Vodacom Cup if we play the Super series and the CC concurrently? More importantly what happens to the smaller unions?

  • Comment 26, posted at 19.01.09 10:40:20 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 25) :

    How many teams/groups in the HC?

  • Comment 27, posted at 19.01.09 10:40:39 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 23) : Will the conference system be divided by country? I would still like to see different teams from different countries play pool matches against each other.

  • Comment 28, posted at 19.01.09 10:41:20 by McLovin Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 25) :

    shouldn’t it be six pool matches? 4 teams per pool play each of the other teams home and away? (I think)

  • Comment 29, posted at 19.01.09 10:41:25 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 27) : 6

  • Comment 30, posted at 19.01.09 10:42:15 by McLovin Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 29) : Oops ja. My maths are a bit rusty so early. :mrgreen:

  • Comment 31, posted at 19.01.09 10:42:56 by McLovin Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 27) :

    24 teams divided into 6 pools of 4 each. Top team from each group plus two best placed 2nd teams go through to 1/4s

  • Comment 32, posted at 19.01.09 10:43:14 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 31) : :smile:

  • Comment 33, posted at 19.01.09 10:43:37 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • So top team in each pool goes through plus the 2 second placed teams with the most log points.

  • Comment 34, posted at 19.01.09 10:43:44 by McLovin Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 26) :

    You can run both the CC (even 14 unions if you want) together with the Super comp from March to August.

    August the internationals start. Shorter version of the 3N etc. End of year the EOYT takes place.

    In August, run a VC, Varsity Cup etc.

  • Comment 35, posted at 19.01.09 10:43:44 by MorneN Reply
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  • Is there an echo in the room? :oops:

  • Comment 36, posted at 19.01.09 10:44:35 by McLovin Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 28) :

    I did this last week, here was a suggestion;

    You will have 4 conferences, let’s call them Western Conference (South Africa and Africa), Mid-Western Conference (Australia, Fiji, Samoa), Central Conference (New Zealand, Japan) and Eastern Conference (Argentina, USA, Canada).

    Each conference will have 5 teams.

    Western Conference (example): SA North (Bulls, Lions), SA Central (Cheetahs, Griquas, Northern Cape), SA East (Sharks, SEC), SA West (WP, Boland), African Leopards (Namibia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya, etc.)

    Mid-Western Conference (example): Waratahs, Brumbies, Reds/Force, Samoa, Fiji.

    Central Conference (example): Crusaders, Hurricanes, Blues, Chiefs, Japan

    Eastern Conference (example): Argentina x 2, USA x 2, Canada x 1

    The format will be quite simple. Each team will play 16 games in a season (round-robin). 8 of these will be in their own conference where they will play each team in their specific conference (home and away). The other 8 will be played against teams of other conferences. These games will be on rotation, meaning that the Bulls might not get to play the Crusaders this year in the ‘round robin’ stages, but they will definitely play them next year, i.e., each team will play every other team at least once every 2 years.

    For the play-offs, the top two teams from each of the 4 conferences will contest a quarter final, semi’s and final.

    To make this even more lucrative (and perhaps fair), the play-offs can even be hosted by a conference (all the play-off games played in that country or region) with a rotation policy in place to hold it in a different conference each year. Meaning the play-offs could possibly be hosted in Japan or the USA where all the play-off teams will gather for a month or until they lose a match.

    Kind of a World Cup feel or scenario, because remember, you now have a competition in which at least 10 nations are represented!

    To even out matches played (by different teams), and get as many representation during the play-off month, a bowl and plate play-off competition can also be added to include the other teams that did not make the Cup play-off.

  • Comment 37, posted at 19.01.09 10:46:19 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 37) : Sounds good, but 16 pool matches seems a bit too much. Especially if you want the players to also play in the currie cup.

  • Comment 38, posted at 19.01.09 10:49:28 by McLovin Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 38) :

    A pro player is expected to play 30 games a year.

    CC can be a one-round affair rather than two, top 4 of the current 8 qualifies for the play-offs.

    16+7=23 (max 25/28 – play offs)

    4 3N tests, = 27 (max 31).

    And that is assuming they play each and every game and we know only one or two players manage that each year.

  • Comment 39, posted at 19.01.09 10:54:34 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 39) : I see. A shortened Currie Cup then. Makes sense.

  • Comment 40, posted at 19.01.09 11:00:34 by McLovin Reply

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  • I reckon something else in the HC’s favour is that you don’t get to see the same teams play each other every season in the pool matches. Keeps it fresh in a way.

  • Comment 41, posted at 19.01.09 11:01:34 by McLovin Reply

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  • @McLovin (Comment 41) :

    Logistically that will be impossible in Super rugby.

    Might work in the CC though.

  • Comment 42, posted at 19.01.09 11:03:13 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 42) : But with your conference suggestion you sort of remedy this by playing a few mathes against teams outside of your conference. Which will help.

  • Comment 43, posted at 19.01.09 11:05:52 by McLovin Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 39) :

    Every plan that is out there to accomodate a conference system somehow downgrades the CC to make way/space in the schedule for the Super series and will eventually be the death of the CC.

  • Comment 44, posted at 19.01.09 11:05:59 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 44) :

    Dude, the CC has long been dead. Most okes just haven’t noticed it yet.

    @McLovin (Comment 43) :

    True

  • Comment 45, posted at 19.01.09 11:08:18 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 45) :

    A better planned/structured Super rugby system might just actually save the CC.

  • Comment 46, posted at 19.01.09 11:09:10 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 45) : Are you saying that because you guys don’t make the semi’s anymore?

  • Comment 47, posted at 19.01.09 11:11:08 by blckshrk - PROTEAS Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 45) :

    Okay Now you’ve said what I wanted to hear. :wink:

    If the plan is to scrap the CC to make way for a conference system (or expanded Super series of some sort) then so be it, but then we need to admit that and get it over with.

    trying to hold on to the CC and an expanded Super series is just not an option IMO.

    if i had to choose i would choose the S14 as it is and the CC. And will someone then tell the aussies to get their own domestic comp and not try and destroy ours.

  • Comment 48, posted at 19.01.09 11:12:41 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 46) : I actually enjoy watching the bigger unions struggling without their Boks… :twisted:

  • Comment 49, posted at 19.01.09 11:14:17 by blckshrk - PROTEAS Reply

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  • @MorneN (Comment 46) :

    It CAN”T though, as I said earlier. every version of and expanded series that is floating about, makes the CC take a dip.

  • Comment 50, posted at 19.01.09 11:14:38 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @blckshrk – PROTEAS (Comment 47) :

    Nope been saying it for about 5 years now.

    The CC is simply a feeder tournament to the Super 14. it has lost its aura.

    @KSA Shark © (Comment 48) :

    I disagree, there is place for both but for the love of everything green divorce Super rugby from unions.

    Super rugby, franchise or region based systems should have f-all to do with unions.

    Currently it is simply an extension of union rugby which is why there will be a loser, and this being CC.

    Unions concentrate on what they should, domestic competitions and rugby and make the Super comp fully pro with independent franchise systems controlled by SARU and a central contracting or draft system.

  • Comment 51, posted at 19.01.09 11:16:16 by MorneN Reply
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  • @blckshrk – PROTEAS (Comment 49) : you should watch the Vodacom Cup

  • Comment 52, posted at 19.01.09 11:17:57 by robdylan Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 51) :

    But even THAT then kills the CC, You wouldn’t be able to operate a Super rugby club and a union with both owning the same players. It would be a bitch fight of note.

  • Comment 53, posted at 19.01.09 11:19:49 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 53) :

    Why not, Super rugby ‘operated’ by SARU, central contract/draft system, CC ‘operated’ by unions.

    The CC will always feed Super rugby who in turn feeds Bok rugby.

    It is, was and always will be a hierarchal system.

    No reason it should not work here – problem is currently it does not as it is all controlled by unions.

    SARU needs to control Super rugby.

  • Comment 54, posted at 19.01.09 11:24:51 by MorneN Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 54) : I support the SARU, draft-system idea…

    Balanced teams – better results…a bigger pool of quality players for the Bokke…

  • Comment 55, posted at 19.01.09 11:27:19 by blckshrk - PROTEAS Reply

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  • @robdylan (Comment 52) : I do :oops:

  • Comment 56, posted at 19.01.09 11:29:33 by PJLD Reply
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  • @MorneN (Comment 54) :

    That will create a system though where the union says we need the player for the CC and the Super owner says “no we want to rest him” and before you know it the Super owner will say “the player only plays in Superrugby”

    In Europe the HC and GP players are owned and managed by the same club for both competitions.

  • Comment 57, posted at 19.01.09 11:29:46 by KSA Shark © Reply

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  • @robdylan (Comment 52) : If I had enough time I’d watch everything…

  • Comment 58, posted at 19.01.09 11:31:31 by blckshrk - PROTEAS Reply

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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 57) :

    You are contracted.

    Your contract states quite simply that bar injury you will play as and how your contract states.

    How players and their agents negotiate contracts is up to them, it is their job to ensure they gain maximum profit (not money but also playing and staying at the top of your game) and the unions, similarly will contract and pay as and how a contract is set up.

    Every player will go or want to play where he makes the most money, and makes it to the highest level.

    Every union franchise will want to maximize their resources to the fullest.

    It all comes down to managing to process as professionals.

    It is very simple.

  • Comment 59, posted at 19.01.09 11:39:17 by MorneN Reply
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  • Not in the mood for the competition form debate myself.

    I really enjoy the HC, more because of the rugby and the foreign players then anything else.

    S14 is still tougher, but HC is pretty good.

  • Comment 60, posted at 19.01.09 13:35:16 by Big Fish Reply
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