Building a mega mediocrity

March 10, 2014
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Increasingly the decision to expand Vodacom Super Rugby in 2016 is looking like a decision to grow an enormous mediocre monster, writes RYAN VREDE.

SA Rugby Magazine

I know but a handful of people who watch an entire round of Super Rugby, and most of those are journalists whose job demands they do so. Given the choice, the majority would spend the time required to cover fixtures like the Force vs Rebels, or this weekend’s Lions vs Blues classic, doing an array of more stimulating things.

They’re not alone. The broader southern hemisphere rugby fraternity share the same view, despite what the TV bosses try to spin. The majority of us watch the team we’re loyal to and matches between elite sides, and turn off when we’re served donkey meat dressed up as rump steak.

And there’s plenty of donkey meat to feed the masses. This past weekend was another example of the gulf in class and quality between the best Super Rugby has to offer and those who make up the numbers. The broadcasters and Sanzar administrators disagree, a position reflected in their strong indication that the tournament will almost certainly expand to 17 teams (a sixth South African side and one from Argentina), with New Zealand pushing hard for an 18th representative from Japan.

Eighteen teams, with only just over half of those worth watching. The southern hemisphere rugby fraternity is being cheated by the suits whose end goal is personal and organisational enrichment at the expense of their primary assets – the players and the supporters.

Ever more elite players are being struck down with serious injury because of the draconian schedule. How many more will we be robbed the privilege of watching because they are required to play a ludicrous number of matches in the season? I take little comfort in a promise made to me by Sanzar CEO Greg Peters in a telephonic discussion midway through last year, when he said that the number of matches per team would remain unchanged even if further expansion took place. To achieve that would take some serious panel-beating of the format. I think Peters’ intention is noble, but its implementation is near impossible.

Japanese clubs stand to benefit most. The restriction on the number of foreign imports they are able to have in their match-day squads means they primarily target elite players, with the vast majority of those coming from the southern hemisphere. The prospect is clearly very appealing – top players can double their current income for playing fewer matches at a significantly lower intensity. From a South African perspective, there are no five-week Australasian tours, no brutal local derbies and nowhere near the same level of pressure exerted by demanding supporters. As hosts of the 2019 World Cup, Japan will ramp up their recruitment efforts in the coming years in a bid to grow interest in the game. Sanzar, you’ve been warned.

Ultimately Super Rugby will (and already has to a large extent) seriously undermine the quality of Tests for the southern hemisphere giants. I can’t remember when last I’ve watched a Rugby Championship Test where both sides are able to name their best 23, or field players who aren’t being gripped by extreme fatigue. What you’ve seen in recent history when you’ve watched a Springbok vs All Blacks Tests is but a shadow of what it had the potential to be. Given that even under the current circumstances they rarely fail to thrill, imagine what you could be watching.

I’ve already made my position on Super Rugby clear – I’d prefer to see a Super 10 or 12 with a second-tier competition accommodating the rest. This will never happen. If anything, the tournament will continue to grow into a mega advertisement for rugby mediocrity.

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7 Comments

  1. avatar Morné says:
    March 10th, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    The numbers don’t lie people.

    Viewing numbers are increasing, interest in local derbies remain steady if not increasing year on year. The match mentioned above (Force v Rebels) saw quite a big crowd in Perth from what I saw.

    Too much rugby?

    Rubbish. I would watch a live rugby match every single night if it was on TV. My only complaint about Super Rugby is that it is too cramped in the current schedule where every match is scheduled over a two (maybe three) day period meaning I cannot sit and watch rugby non-stop for 6 hours.

  2. avatar Boertjie says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 12:16 am

    @Morné:

    Ja, maar jy is rugby bedonnerd.

  3. avatar Boertjie says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 12:17 am

    BTW wat het van die Stormers se nuwe trui geword?
    Na al die publisiteit speel hulle nog in dieselfde een.
    Player revolt against the new garb?

  4. avatar namboer says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Hoessit, Tjops.

    @Morné: S’true Piepiemier, numbers don’t lie…”Ever more elite players are being struck down with serious injury because of the draconian schedule” – would you be so kind and pull some numbers on how many S15 players are currently out injured? It has been said before, Jap clubs attract all kinds of international players not only for money but also because they don’t have to play so damn much. And yes, it is after all their job to play rugby but lets be realistic now, pen-pushing 40+ hours a week is nowhere near the same as 80min of having 15 gents doing their level best to break 5/10 bones in your body (and the preparation during the week to be able to do so.)

    Bet that if you compare injury numbers S10/S12 with that of S15 there will be quite a difference. Granted, players on national duty also play more games, but that brings me to my next point.

    Quality vs. quantity – quality always wins, I DON’T want to option to watch one of several horse sh!t/pretty mediocre/almost good games every night, much rather watch 2, or 3 at most, good games during the weekend and maybe 1 Varsity Cup game on Monday. I simply don’t have the time for any more. And – also been said before – does anyone even bother anymore to get up at ghastly hours when their teams plays in Aus/NZ? No, it just ain’t worth it anymore – too much.

    I totally agree with the author’s sentiments “The southern hemisphere rugby fraternity is being cheated by the suits whose end goal is personal and organisational enrichment at the expense of their primary assets – the players and the supporters” and “I’d prefer to see a Super 10 or 12 with a second-tier competition accommodating the rest.”

  5. avatar Cheetah Glory says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 12:41 am

    I don think there is too much rugby either, but too much rugby of the same caliber, which is why the Heineken Cup is better because you dont play the same teams in your group every year.

    make it 20 teams with groups of 5 who play each other round robin based on a draw. Might only get to play Crusaders once every few years but then it will be special.

    The group phase become a real personal war. In Super rugby we dont spend long enough in any city to build real rivalries.

    I cannot think of a single super rugby ‘derby’ that started out as a result of the competition? Bulls V Crusaders was getting kinda hot until Chiefs took over.

    In a group setup you build real animosity.

  6. avatar Morné says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 10:11 am

    @namboer:

    And try and force game quotas onto players per season and see how they jump up and down. They cannot have it both ways.

    If Japan (with less games per season) paid players the same as they would earn in Super Rugby do you think they will even consider moving? Not a bloody chance.

    Rugby is an industry, not a past time anymore.

    Players move for money, not schedules.

  7. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    March 11th, 2014 at 11:56 am

    @Morné:

    agree with that – Schedule should be 1 game a day for the week & weekend – not all 7 on a weekend :bangheadt:

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