Richard Ferguson

Change the game

Written by Richard Ferguson (Richard Ferguson)

Posted in :Original Content, Super Rugby on 23 Apr 2013 at 10:02

Tony Blair said: “A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in, and how many want out”, a quote that can easily be taken in context with the current situation in South African rugby.

Every week we learn of another player that is heading to Japan, or even worse, heading to Europe, chasing greener playing pastures where the Yen/Pound/Euro pay cheque is not to be frowned upon. It is in these times that we should look to what is chasing them away instead of focusing on the lure.

It is a simple answer – Super Rugby. Super Rugby has gone from being the best rugby competition in the world to just another competition that players are not too disappointed in if they should miss it. It has become the Currie Cup on a bigger scale.

The length of the competition, coupled with the amount of physical strains endured to face local competition in heated battle is simply breaking our players. We have seen it happen in the past and we will continue to see it, in greater scale, as the seasons continue. But you know this already, it is well documented and I assume we can all agree on this.

So we know what the problem is, yet nobody is doing anything to prevent our players from crossing the border. One can hardly blame the players; this is their profession after all. One can hardly blame Heyneke Meyer for selecting players based across from our borders, again, it is his job to put the best team on the field and win. So who do we blame?

I will leave the blame-game to others; instead, I want to look towards an answer. Let’s face it, Super Rugby will never go back to the old days of Super 12, where each team plays each other once, we have the play-offs and we are done after three months. So the answer does not lie with the competition, it lies with the management of our players.

Many will dispute the sabbatical Richie McCaw has taken from Super Rugby so far this year. But is it not better to retain a player than to lose him to another competition altogether. The focus in South Africa should turn to identifying players like McCaw and putting a plan in place to allow these players to have a few months extra off every so often.

If New Zealand Rugby can allow for McCaw to take six months off, to not only lengthen his career and allow us all to see him play at another World Cup, but to see him play at the best of his abilities because he is not injured for two years at a time, why can we not do the same?
If we can allow Schalk Burger for instance, to sit on the sideline injured for a second year now, why could we not have allowed him a break that would have seen him not injure himself, and probably back playing already? I know that is a simple example, but the real effects of allowing players time off will be beneficial to not only the players, but the competition and the supporters.

This may not be the solution, I accept that it is a bit of a pipe dream, but we need to shift our focus. We are losing players at the rate of knots and nobody is seemingly interested in putting a stop to it. We need South African Rugby to make it worth the while of our players to remain in the country, something that the Rand and the Green and Gold jersey is not doing at this stage.

I read this quote somewhere: “Make the money, don’t let the money make you. Change the game, don’t let the game change you”. I think that is so relevant to the above situation and I can only hope that somewhere someone is changing the game.


  • Completely agree. It’s not just always the money that drives players away. The enjoyment factor and experience factor also comes into play.

    If it was just money we would have seen way more players leaving.

  • Comment 1, posted at 23.04.13 10:09:08 by Letgo Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • I don’t know if you’ve read Brenden Nel’s latest piece on Supersport, Rich? About how the Bulls are battling to match their budget to all the players they’ve signed?

    There’s a very interesting warning message there…. Super Rugby is starting to dictate frankly huge squads…. I reckon most teams will easily have gone through 50 players by the time the season ends. Faced as it is with pressure to compete against the Yen and Euro and also forced to spread what little money there is across a wider player base, the implications for the quality of the sport in SA are dire.

    More and more you’ll see teams go into Super Rugby with a squad full of rookies each year. I shudder to think what impact that will have on the Boks.

  • Comment 2, posted at 23.04.13 10:11:20 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Very well written piece, Richard.

  • Comment 3, posted at 23.04.13 10:20:00 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • @robdylan (Comment 2) : That is a truly scary thought. We get excited about all the new prospects but there are only a few that are truly world class. Etsebeth and Coetzee for example are both a bit of a freak and it is not often that a young rookie is immediately ready for Bok duty.

  • Comment 4, posted at 23.04.13 10:21:41 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • @Letgo (Comment 1) : Almost all the players that play in Ireland and in France comment on how much they enjoy the lifestyle over there.

  • Comment 5, posted at 23.04.13 10:22:48 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • I can’t see why we can’t go back to the good old days, and still accommodate more teams. A two-tier system with promotion-relegation between the two tiers. You can keep the conference system to ensure that each country has 4 teams in the top tier. However apart from that it works like the old S12 – you play everyone and the top 4 have semis and a final.

    This would allow us to accommodate the Lions and the Kings, and perhaps bring in some Argie, Samoan and Fijian teams to spice things up a bit. For logistics sakes you based these other teams in SA, Aus and NZ – just as the Pampas are based in SA for the Vodacom Cup

  • Comment 6, posted at 23.04.13 10:28:51 by Bokhoring Reply
  • Agree Richard. The players and SupeRugby are taking a knock because of the format and you can’t blame the players for making those choices. SA Rugby should put pressure on Sanzar to change the format or join the Heinekin cup but they don’t have the balls.

    Sad situation.

  • Comment 7, posted at 23.04.13 10:29:33 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 6) : why base them in SA, I think they should play from their own countries. 😉 Will make things interesting in that perspective and also give their locals super rugby.

  • Comment 8, posted at 23.04.13 10:35:50 by Uli Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
    Uli Boelie
  • @Uli (Comment 8) : It would make for a more interesting competition.

  • Comment 9, posted at 23.04.13 10:40:02 by King Shark Reply
    King Shark
  • We should rather have a petition against this bollocks of a super rugby format and force them to go back the super 12.
    The format is stale and the amount of rugby being played makes for no excitement anymore. with even more teams joining makes it even worst and they think by injecting new team makes in more exiting just for it to go pale in into two weeks of super season.

  • Comment 10, posted at 23.04.13 10:41:33 by Uli Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
    Uli Boelie
  • @Uli (Comment 8) : I don’t think the facilities in especially Fiji is up to scratch, and having to tour to Argentina and Oz / NZ may just make it rough on the players travel wise.

  • Comment 11, posted at 23.04.13 10:42:59 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 11) : Then again if you only have 9 (at most 12) teams in the lower tier, it may not be so bad travel wise – provided you plan the byes properly

  • Comment 12, posted at 23.04.13 10:48:29 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 11) : I understand , that would force SANZAR to maybe inject some much needed cash into those countries and develop rugby there instead of neck breakers. 😉

    Plus who is going to go watch say Fiji/Samoa play Highlanders in Royal Bafokeng Stadium? its pointless.

  • Comment 13, posted at 23.04.13 10:52:12 by Uli Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
    Uli Boelie
  • @Uli (Comment 13) : Fiji would play Highlanders in e.g. Oz – plenty of Fijians living there.

    The Argies probably would be the worst off

  • Comment 14, posted at 23.04.13 11:07:37 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @King Shark (Comment 3) :
    @Pokkel (Comment 7) :


    It is a tough situation for everyone to be in, the players, the administrators, the whole lot.

    But something is going to have give, it’s just a matter of time before we either have a mass walk out of players, or the stadiums will empty out. Either way, we don’t want it to get to that.

  • Comment 15, posted at 23.04.13 13:27:01 by Richard Ferguson Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
    Richard Ferguson
  • @robdylan (Comment 2) :

    I think it was yesterday that you raised the point about not enjoying the game anymore. At first I thought it was me who was too involved with writing and analysis etc., but to me as well, it has lost it’s charm.

    It’s a shame.

  • Comment 16, posted at 23.04.13 13:28:25 by Richard Ferguson Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Administrator
    Richard Ferguson
  • How about doing away with the conference format and forming three pools of 5 teams each, with each playing one home and one away game against the opposition in their pool.

    Split it up so that there is a rest and recuperation period of a few weeks between the home/away sections.

    After the pool stages have finished, have a couple of weeks gap and play quarter finals between the top 2 in each pool, plus two best performing “wildcard” sides from any of the pools 3 pools.

    Play the semis after another two weeks break and the finals two weeks later.

    This will give players more than enough chance to recover from niggles and people will be more inclined to look forward to games if they’re spread out.

  • Comment 17, posted at 23.04.13 15:23:37 by rhineshark Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Spirit of Rugby
  • Great article! It needed to be said.

  • Comment 18, posted at 23.04.13 15:46:58 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish

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