Here are the latest blood rising musings of your favourite rugby scribe, an Aussie with a Greek name.
Spiros Zavos, The Roar
Among the problems with the Super Rugby system is the way each of the territories has five teams. A 15-team tournament, an uneven number, means that there can never be a full round with all of the teams playing.
The fact, too, that the South African teams have been granted a dispensation to start the tournament a week earlier than teams in the other two conferences means that at least four South African teams have played a tournament match before teams in Australia and New Zealand.
This advantage was used over the last weekend when the Sharks, with a match and a win already under their belts, played the Hurricanes. The result was a convincing and inevitable 27 -9 victory to the Sharks.
This advantage to the Sharks and disadvantage to the Hurricanes has been accentuated for the Melbourne Rebels, who are playing their first match of the 2014 tournament against the Cheetahs, who are playing their third match.
At least the Rebels are playing at home!
The next Super Rugby tournament will, presumably, include an early start for the South African sides which is a requirement, apparently, to allow an early start to the iconic Currie Cup tournament. And six South African sides will be included.
It is generally asking SANZAR for more than they usually deliver to ask for even numbers for all the conferences, so that non-South African teams are not disadvantaged by the South African-only opening round of the new Super Rugby format.
This pessimistic note is based on reports that SANZAR is contemplating a complicated format that involves two three-team conferences in South Africa, with a team from Argentina and possibly Japan somewhere in the mix.
This all sounds too complicated to me.
It makes sense for Argentina’s national side, the Pumas, to be in The Rugby Championship. And I would include one of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji (in this order) in the annual tournament as well, except for Rugby World Cup years.
But I think an Argentinian team in Super Rugby makes no sense at all.
Where would the team be based? Which province in Argentina would provide the team? Or would it be a composite team, Pumas-lite? And if this is the case who would want to follow it, even in Argentina?
There are four countries in the Americas that have had teams at the Rugby World Cup tournaments: USA, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay. These countries should establish a sort of modified Super Rugby tournament built around the most dominant clubs or provinces for the Americas.
With six South African sides, without the Argentinian side to worry about, the Australian Conference could keep its present five sides and host a Japanese side playing out of North Queensland, where they were extremely popular in the Rugby World Cup 2003 tournament.
In turn, Auckland could host a Pasifika side, including Maori players not picked up by the present five Super Rugby teams, that would play out of Auckland. Auckland is the capital of Polynesia and such a team would be a hit in New Zealand, the other conferences and around the world where Super Rugby gets good coverage and ratings.
Under this plan, the internal home-and-away fixtures would be retained, even though the New Zealand Rugby Union and some of the New Zealand players don’t like them. The fact is, though, the statistics will show that supporters like this feature.
Each team would play a home-and-away against their own conference teams, and then play all the other teams once. They would play three of these matches away and three at home.
This format would provide eight home matches in the round-robin a year for each side.
My guess is that this is all to obvious and straight-forward for the SANZAR planners, who can’t even get the away jerseys of teams right. Apparently the Western Force’s blueish jersey they wore against the Waratahs, which caused confusion for players and spectators, is the sanctioned away jersey for the team.
This away strip clashed with the Waratahs jersey, and if the Force play the Auckland Blues at Eden Park it will clash there as well.
This sort of carelessness indicates a certain indifference to the interests of spectators, and to the players.
I will congratulate SANZAR on what seems to be a worthwhile and overdue change to the rostering of the referees. The refereeing of the first two rounds has been of a high standard, although the Australian referees, rather like the Australian scrums, have not been as good as those from other countries.
The higher standard is due in part in a willingness to run the best referees early in the tournament, especially for inter-conference matches. For the coming round this pattern has been maintained, to a certain extent.
Angus Gardiner, a good young referee who is likely to end up as the top Australian referee, officiates at the Rebels – Cheetahs match at AAMI Park in Melbourne. I think it would have been better to have given him the Force – Brumbies match and a New Zealand referee officiate at Melbourne.
Steve Walsh is doing the honours for the Stormers – Hurricanes. Good.
The Chiefs – Highlanders matches is being refereed by the Australian Rohan Hoffman who had a checkered match, I thought, in the Waratahs – Force encounter.
Glenn Jackson is refereeing the Waratahs – Reds at ANZ Stadium. A New Zealand referee, once a thoughtful and lively player, and now growing into one of the world’s best referees, Jackson should ensure that the ‘slow’ game the Reds are predicting will be quickened up.
Chris Pollock, one of the top New Zealand referees, is officiating, the Bulls – Lions match, a veldt derby.
I hope SANZAR tries to ensure that inter-conference matches, as far as possible, will be refereed by referees from the third conference. This is crucial, obviously, for the finals, although in the past SANZAR has reneged on its promise to have third-conference referees for these encounters.
What we need from SANZAR is the recognition that the Super Rugby tournament is not just a sporting occasion, it is an entertainment occasion as well. More consideration for the interests of the supporters is needed in their deliberations and decision-making.
This means far more openness about why decisions are made and how they are made than in the past.