Super Rugby 2016 is all about the growth and worldwide expansion of the competition.
There are new markets in Japan with the hastily organised Sunwolves, Latin American-flavored Los Jaguares, and the much-maligned Southern Kings of South Africa joining the party with the the aim of increasing revenue.
However, the more competition grows, the more it becomes a farcical caricature of Pauline Hanson proportions!
Sitting through last weekend’s penultimate round, waiting to see who was going to qualify for the playoffs, my excitement should be fever pitch, but I have no idea what is going on.
How on Earth does a competition of professional significance, including some of the best players in the world, allow such a ridiculous system to be implemented?
Chairman of New Zealand Rugby Steve Tew said recently that rugby in New Zealand would cease to exist if this expansion did not go through. I understand that there is a need to generate revenue and create a marketable product to enhance the coffers, but can anyone honestly tell me the benefit of watching the three new teams be hammered by close to 60 points every week in front of some of the worst crowds in the competition?
To assume that expansion is the only way to secure the future of the game is naive at best. Just look at the confusing structure of the conference system.
The South African conference contains two groups: Bulls, Stormers, Cheetahs and Sunwolves in one (they don’t play any Kiwi teams in pool play); Kings, Lions, Sharks and Jaguares in the other.
– Teams play six matches in their own conference, five against an Australasian conference, four against a South African conference.
– Eight-team finals series featuring the four conference winners (top Kiwi team, top Australian team, SA Group 1 and SA Group 2 winners), the three next-highest-ranked teams from the Australasian group, and the next highest-ranked team from the South African group.
– 15 games, two byes in pool play.
What is this nonesense? In order to justify the expansion and provide competition they have created a ‘fair’ for all conference system that rewards the teams in the weakest areas in order to maximise profit by ensuring that every conference has a representative.
Currently, the Lions are top of the table, but on what planet is a team top of the table when the haven’t played the other best teams in the very competition they are competing in?
I want to see hard, intense rugby week in, week out. This is the core of any successful sport, not a contrived game of pass the parcel to ensure the sponsors are happy.
The paying fan – through pay TV subscriptions, matchday tickets and buying jerseys – has been used as a cash cow at tremendous risk, and for what? To open up an avenue in Japan? They already have a competition that is quite successful. For a team in Argentina? Most of the Argentinian players prefer to play in Europe. And for an expanded South African franchise? A team that’s attendance has been so poor that they are struggling to fill even a quarter of the stadium.
SANZAAR needs revenue, and I applaud the majority of what they do. But they need to put the brakes on here and realise that constant expansion will do long-term harm. It is digging at the very base of what made this competition great: hard-fought, Test-level rugby. I fear this has been lost in the race to secure TV dollars.
We need to let the sport and competition speak for itself, regardless of the best TV deal. The thing that matters is what the product looks like on the field of play.
In the immortal words from Kevin Costner’s film The Field of Dreams.
”If you build it they will come”
Lets not ruin the spectacle that has been built on the blood sweat and tears of former greats, And get back to creating great rugby!