There’s a lot of discussion at the moment regarding Super Rugby – with SANZAAR having scored something of a coup in convincing their broadcast partners to allow them to change the competition format mid-flight without any financial implications to themselves.
While the decision to drop three teams from the competition is being met with wailing and gnashing of teeth in the areas most likely to be affected, one simply cannot argue against the logic of reducing the competition in some way. Super Rugby, over the last two years, has been a mess, with too many teams, too few really entertaining and competitive games and a fixtures list and log structure that is simply insane. We all said so at the time, but SANZAAR pushed ahead with it anyway and I feel its a blessing of sorts that they’ve already decide to pull the plug after just one and a half seasons of this rubbish.
What do we do, though? That seems to be the question on the minds of many South African fans. How do we get away from the nagging feeling here that we’ve been “done a dirty” and will once again have to make do with the short end of the stick? I think it helps if we focus on some hard truths and facts here, in the interests of taking the edge off some of the emotion.
Fact the first is that Jurie Roux is right in saying SA cannot sustain six franchise teams. This is not about the Kings, per se – it’s about the fact that interest in rugby in the country is not sufficient to support the plethora of quasi-professional players we currently have and with the currency in decline, trying to spread the available funds too thinly leave everybody worse off. The best players take overseas offers and our Super Rugby squads become younger and weaker as the years go by. The only way to reverse that decline is to invest a greater share of the pot into a smaller pool of players and this means fewer teams. It’s simple economics. It’s also a point I’ve been banging on about for a while now, so this move sits well enough with me.
Fact the second is that there is no viable option or offer on the table to “go North” every time we get pissed off with our SANZAAR partners. It’s a pipe dream, made impossible by both a lack of appetite in Europe as well as the lack of an overlapping season. We can “want” this as much as we like, but until they want it as much as we do, it’s not going to happen.
The other thing that we need to consider, though, is geography – not something that can be changed either. Again, a fact is that South Africa isn’t close to anywhere else; at least, not anywhere where rugby is played to a reasonable standard. If we want international competition, we are going to have to travel and while it’s perhaps a downside for our teams that the new format WILL mean a return to five overseas matches every year (four in the antipodes and one in Argentina), this is simply the price that must be paid if we are to play against our Southern Hemisphere rivals. The argument, once again, that playing in Europe will in some way make the travel burden more manageable is again nonsensical. It simply would not be economical to fly a team from South Africa to Europe for a single game and then back again, meaning these games, too, would need to be grouped together into multi-week tours.
I think we need to get real about the state of our game, accept the hard choices that need to be made and get on and make them in the quickest and most sensible fashion possible. My strong hope, after all of this, is that Super Rugby will settle on a 14 team format in the future and drop the conference nonsense altogether. Perhaps this reduction is the first step towards getting there.Tweet