The tyranny of geography

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Super Rugby on 12 Apr 2017 at 08:58
Tagged with : , , , ,

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.


  • Good read mate, I agree on most points especially making the number of teams even rather than odd. No bye’s, everyone plays everyone and no conference bullshit! We can hope I guess. Maybe drop another AUS team in the future?

  • Comment 1, posted at 12.04.17 09:15:59 by Quintin Reply
  • ”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.”
    I think you have this the wrong way around,I think its the broadcast partners that have convinced SANZAAR,to change,

  • Comment 2, posted at 12.04.17 09:21:37 by The hound Reply
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  • Very good article otherwise agree strongly with your premise.

  • Comment 3, posted at 12.04.17 09:22:47 by The hound Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 2) : perhaps you’re right. Not sure who forced the change, but it’s still a result that they’ve managed to sell less product for the same money.

  • Comment 4, posted at 12.04.17 09:26:16 by robdylan Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 3) : thanks Hound

  • Comment 5, posted at 12.04.17 09:26:37 by robdylan Reply
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  • Great read, thanks Rob. I agree that we can’t realistically go North. Imagine trying to foot the bill for a 3 week tpur in Europe! Just not feasible.

    14 teams would be ideal, but I can’t see Aus or S.A. agreeing to drop another team.

  • Comment 6, posted at 12.04.17 09:29:27 by StevieS Reply
  • Nice one Rob! Ja think there’s no solution to traveling so players and fans will have to accept it for what it is! Only way to stop the traveling is to start a four nations with Zim, Namibia and Kenya as our partners!?!?!?

  • Comment 7, posted at 12.04.17 09:30:38 by JD Reply
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  • Good article. I get the sense that the NZ teams see their tours as adventures, whereas South Africans tend to just want the entire trip to be over even before its begun… If that mindset can be changed, half the battle will be won.

  • Comment 8, posted at 12.04.17 10:00:36 by Karl Reply

  • I would hate to lose the double header games against SA teams.

    Imagine not being able to look forward to the Durban revenge game against the Lions.

    Also, I want to see the best players in SA compete against each other. CC does not offer this anymore.

    I’m happy with the 4 traditional power house teams representing SA….And would want saru to invest the same amount of resources into these four unions, as they did for the Kings.

  • Comment 9, posted at 12.04.17 10:04:43 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @Karl (Comment 8) : Sharks used to love the tours (sometimes a little too much, to the point of forgetting that they’re there for rugby πŸ˜‰ ).

    Freestate seemed to hate traveling – anything further than the South Coast is too far for those boys.

  • Comment 10, posted at 12.04.17 10:14:46 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 10) : The only travelling the Freestaters enjoy is travelling to Durban (on a permanent basis). Mind you, it’s understandable; its not entirely unlike the way elite athletes attempted to escape from the Soviet Bloc during the cold war era…

  • Comment 11, posted at 12.04.17 10:30:56 by Culling Song Reply
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  • @StevieS (Comment 6) : With the Force on 2/6 and the Rebels on 0/5, I believe Aus can be “persuaded” into dropping both, hell even the Tahs are on 2/7. Their conferences performance overall doesn’t justify them having more than 3 teams.

    Yes, the Bulls are just as bad this season but they have won the competition 3 times in the past which neither of those teams has accomplished. The only odd one out is the Sunwolves who are there for the possible revenue stream from growing the game in Japan.

  • Comment 12, posted at 12.04.17 11:13:18 by Quintin Reply

  • @Quintin (Comment 12) : I suspect the journey towards 3 Aussie teams is one that needs to be tackled in a few steps

  • Comment 13, posted at 12.04.17 11:32:17 by robdylan Reply
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  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 10) : I met a wayward one here in the Cape last week – a pioneer of sorts.

  • Comment 14, posted at 12.04.17 11:32:59 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
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  • @Salmonoid the Subtle (Comment 14) : Probably tried his hand at navigation using the stars – I’m sure he aimed for the warm waters of the Kzn coast. πŸ™‚

  • Comment 15, posted at 12.04.17 11:38:25 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @Culling Song (Comment 11) : Roids can only keep you happy for that long.

  • Comment 16, posted at 12.04.17 11:39:53 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 13) : Agreed and how ironic would that be? They are calling for SA teams to be completely axed from SR(dick move Aus!) and then they lose more spots in the competition than we do πŸ˜†

  • Comment 17, posted at 12.04.17 11:42:41 by Quintin Reply

  • @Quintin (Comment 17) : Ozzies have an unhealthy man-crush in the kiwis, clearly they do not appreciate a threesome…..They know the kiwis would sooner “be with” SA, the hotter of the two.

  • Comment 18, posted at 12.04.17 11:51:28 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 15) : most good old Durban boys I know get nervous traveling further than Pinetown,and regard the Bluff as a foreign country ,never going past Amanzimtexas in the south, and Gateway in the north.

  • Comment 19, posted at 12.04.17 11:52:41 by The hound Reply
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  • How does the weak rand figure into the broadcast contract? Is it not negotiated to be in a foreign currency?

  • Comment 20, posted at 12.04.17 11:59:08 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 19) : So you’re telling me that Durbanites are worse than Freestaters?

    No wonder the Sharks keep importing from neighbouring t provinces, negate the travel-fear factor.

    Speaking of which, who’s willing to bet against Saru insisting the Kings becomes the Sharks pet project?

  • Comment 21, posted at 12.04.17 12:02:30 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • Is it too much to hope that SARU uses this opporrunity to break the power of the big unions and create 4 SR teams completely independent of the unions.

    Cape and Natal teams to play in the new stadiums with new identities and highveld teams at least with new identities. Management, money completely divorced from the local union. Restricted and salary capped player contracts for the SR season only and also salary caps for creating a 8-10 team CC that any team can win.

  • Comment 22, posted at 12.04.17 12:14:32 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 21) :

    He meant real Durbanites. Gin and tonic, three cheers to the Queen people for whom the empire is still alive.

  • Comment 23, posted at 12.04.17 12:19:28 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 23) : Oh, well those can’t play rugby in any case. πŸ™‚

  • Comment 24, posted at 12.04.17 12:26:17 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @fyndraai (Comment 23) : I actually referring to the slip slop,Holmes brothers T-shirt ,two boards, and a dog who can swim people you box.

  • Comment 25, posted at 12.04.17 12:26:17 by The hound Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 23) : To most of them Queen was a band fronted by a moffie who gained some redemption because he could actually sing.And the Empire was a dingy movie theater that closed down years ago next to the playhouse.
    Gin and tonics arse this is the original home of spook and diesel

  • Comment 26, posted at 12.04.17 12:33:43 by The hound Reply
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  • Is there any reason why a similar format to that of the European Champions Cup isn’t being looked at? I.e. Groups of 4 teams play each other home and away and the winner of each group progresses to a knockout phase, perhaps with a best placed loser if numbers require. Teams are seeded based on previous years performance and historic standing in the competition, with groups drawn according to seed i.e. Two top seeds can’t be drawn in the same group etc. It would reduce the duration of the competition and mean it could be played concurrently with domestic competitions like the Currie Cup, as is the case in Europe, as most teams would only be playing 6 games unless they made it to the knockout stages. At most teams would play about 9 or 10 games. We could even have it that the top 4 from the CC qualified for the next years’ tournament, if that could be agreed. It works so well in Europe, and is a competition design which encourages ‘meaningful’ games rather than the host of dead rubbers or repetitive derbies we have in SR. The Southern Hemisphere don’t have convinient geography as in Europe, however, I don’t think it would preclude a tournament in this guise from working, and I’m surprised to not see it discussed anywhere.

  • Comment 27, posted at 12.04.17 13:26:14 by NielRoss Reply

  • @Quintin (Comment 17) : Australia don’t hate South Africa, or love New Zealand. Unlike South Africa were we can watch the games played in oz and nz in the mornings, for them the games played in SA are in the middle of the night. Australia also has the most competitive sports market in the world. There’s 18 AFL Teams and 16 NRL and the A league ( soccer ) all competing for viewers, and all with a hell of a lot more money than rugby has. Now having a whole lot of teams playing at 3 in the morning isn’t great for them. So naturally they would try to explore the option of a comp with them and NZ and potentially the pacific islands etc.

  • Comment 28, posted at 12.04.17 13:28:01 by RuckingFun Reply

  • @RuckingFun (Comment 28) : Exactly

  • Comment 29, posted at 12.04.17 13:35:49 by The hound Reply
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  • @RuckingFun (Comment 28) : I agree to and understand your points. I never stated Australia hates or loves anyone. My point was that their teams aren’t performing good enough in SR, so maybe one more of their teams should be left out of the competition to make it more competitive.

  • Comment 30, posted at 12.04.17 13:49:57 by Quintin Reply

  • @RuckingFun (Comment 28) : Ozzies, not unlike the yanks, enjoy watching sports at which they are good. When their rugby teams do well, it’s suddenly one of their top sports, and when they suck (like now), they drag out the old “26th most popular sport” story.

    They’ll set their fox sports box (or whatever they have there) to record those early morning games, as long as their team has a realistic chance of winning (just like bulls supporters would start watching rugby again – for now, they’ve “mysteriously” lost their appetite for rugby).

  • Comment 31, posted at 12.04.17 14:04:31 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • The Cheetahs can continue to exist as it’s impractical to pair them with the Lions from a logistical point of view.

    The Lions and Bulls should be paired as Pta and Jhb are close enough to each other. Throw the Pumas into the mix and you have a really strong franchise.

    Stormers and Sharks retain their teams with the Kings joining either of them.

    The top 160 players are contracted by SARU, placed in a pool and coaches can choose their first 30 players from their region. After that the players go into a pool and players 31-40 are selected in a draft. Would provide for more equal distribution of player resources so that we don’t have another John and Bissie situation.

  • Comment 32, posted at 12.04.17 14:10:24 by ChrisS Reply
  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 31) : this is so so true. I read Sydney morning herald quite a bit. When SA klapped their cricket team 5-0 earlier, you wouldnt have said there is a series on. They beat whoever in a one off and its front page. Even worse with Rugby. That 26th in popularity story is such bullshit. Amatuer participation is not how you measure the size of a sport. When last have 50 000 people got together to watch a game of lawn bowls? Let them beat the All Blacks once and Rugby is suddenly back.

  • Comment 33, posted at 12.04.17 16:03:37 by West Indies Cricket Board Reply
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  • I would be very much in favour of s12. Sure the competition would be tougher but the product would be if higher quality and to be honest in the southern hemisphere expansion of the comp is not really viable.

  • Comment 34, posted at 12.04.17 17:27:01 by coolfusion Reply

  • @West Indies Cricket Board (Comment 33) : So there we have it…..Ozzies = Bulls.

    I’ve spoken to so many bulls supporters, who’ve suddenly lost their taste for rugby – yet they were the most rabid fans in 2007 – 2011.

  • Comment 35, posted at 12.04.17 17:27:44 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @ChrisS (Comment 32) : Sure bills can meld but must be under lions brand and coaching since you can’t punish the lions for bulls sake.

  • Comment 36, posted at 12.04.17 17:31:23 by coolfusion Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 35) : haha. I know of 2 of those rabid die hard Matfield era bulls fans who have since joined the dark side and couldnt be prouder Sharkies. Fickle, I think its called..

  • Comment 37, posted at 12.04.17 20:25:07 by West Indies Cricket Board Reply
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  • No.
    We just have higher standards.

  • Comment 38, posted at 12.04.17 23:11:58 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 35) : I blame afrikaans music for not releasing more bulls glorification songs. I’m looking at you Steve Hofmeyr. …

  • Comment 39, posted at 13.04.17 04:45:19 by coolfusion Reply

  • Interesting article

    “8 pro teams, not 14, in SARU’s future

    The eight teams – four in Vodacom Super Rugby, and four in a possible competition in a new market, backed up by a strong Currie Cup competition based on strength vs strength are part of the radical changes being proposed to SARU’s structures in future to streamline the game and bring rugby into a sustainable future.

    It is clear the current structures aren’t working and despite the outcry over the axing of two Super Rugby teams this week, results underline SARU’s contention that the economy of the game at the moment can only support four franchises in the competition.”

  • Comment 40, posted at 13.04.17 09:01:58 by Baylion Reply

  • @Baylion (Comment 40) : I read it just know, I think it’s a step in the right direction for them to realize it’s not sustainable to have so many professional teams. How to they handle it from here or actually implement it will be interesting to see, if they go through with it.

    I wish that was the only article I read on SS, the other one I read was pretty much about how good the Stormers youngsters are, it’s sounds as if they have already won us the World Cup πŸ™„

  • Comment 41, posted at 13.04.17 09:27:36 by Quintin Reply

  • @Quintin (Comment 41) : Don’t worry, they will. One day. But first it’s Super Rugby. πŸ˜‰ 😈

  • Comment 42, posted at 13.04.17 12:01:50 by McLovin Reply

  • @coolfusion (Comment 39) : Sometimes I feel that those ‘sokkie treffers’ should be declared a human rights violation.

    And aren’t they looking for volunteers to go to Mars? Can’t we ‘volunteer’ Stief? :mrgreen:

  • Comment 43, posted at 13.04.17 12:05:40 by McLovin Reply

  • @Baylion (Comment 40) : Reckon if SARU is serious about private ownership of unions and wants to attract investors they have no choice but to get their house in order.

  • Comment 44, posted at 13.04.17 12:14:57 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 43) : I like your thinking. The aliens are sure to invade Mars first if we move him there, probably buying a cocky American pilot and his scrappy scientist sidekick precious time to thwart any invasion effort on Earth.

  • Comment 45, posted at 13.04.17 14:19:22 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @McLovin (Comment 44) : So many palms would need greasing to make that happen, from the tippy-top all the way down to the toilet cleaner (yes Jurie, I’m looking at you)

  • Comment 46, posted at 13.04.17 14:33:25 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @vanmartin (Comment 45) : Scientist sidekick must hold a qualification in a completely unrelated branch of science like zoology. But then confidently and successfully advise on all things science related, physics, chemistry, astronomy, forensics, alien biology….. :mrgreen: πŸ™„

  • Comment 47, posted at 13.04.17 14:36:06 by McLovin Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 46) : I’m hoping the financial squeeze leaves them with no other option. Not holding my breath though. 😐

  • Comment 48, posted at 13.04.17 14:38:50 by McLovin Reply

  • @McLovin (Comment 48) : The financial squeeze only ever hurts the mid-to low hanging fruit – top Brass ensures their slice of the cake remains in tact….

  • Comment 49, posted at 13.04.17 14:58:27 by FireTheLooser Reply


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