It would cheer me up no end if Super Rugby was chopped in half and the South African teams booted out, writes PETER LAMPP for Rugby Heaven
It has to be the worst-designed competition on the planet – too long and across too many time zones.
The current playoffs have shown that, with the Hurricanes having to fly to South Africa and the Chiefs having to zap back from Cape Town to play in the Christchurch swamp.
It’s crazy that Super Rugby not only starts in February, but constricts the window for all of our NPC teams, such as the Manawatu Turbos, to play, let alone play each other.
The length of Super Rugby affects our All Blacks. Week in week out they slog away against the other New Zealand teams and are bruised bruisers when it comes to the June tests.
Two games between each of the NZ teams should be enough, but no, it was three this year, all of them brutal affairs.
Meanwhile, the Aussie teams were so hopeless that their Wallabies players will be fresh for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
Manawatu has a stack of Super players. But having trained their guts out since late last year, they often return to Manawatu either mentally or physically tuckered out.
We saw that each year with wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma and last year with Crusaders prop Michael Alaalatoa.
By this stage of the season, NPC coaches are just praying their players get through uninjured.
This competition started as the South Pacific Championship –from 1986 to 1990 – before it became the Super 6 in 1992. The South Pacific was organised by the New South Wales Rugby Union and the tougher rugby against New Zealand teams really lifted the Aussie sides.
Maybe it’s time New Zealand cut itself adrift again.
Super 10 came along in 1993 in the days before players were (officially) paid, and even then they played only four pool games and a final. Then it became Super 12 from 1996, when the Crusaders finished dead last, Super Rugby from 2011 with 15 teams, and now there are 18 teams with those in the playoffs slogging through 17 games.
Next year, the bright sparks want to cut it back to 15 teams, but sides such as the Western Force are proving as stubborn to dislodge as they were on the field as Australia’s most improved team.
Tonga and Western Samoa were part of Super 10, but were flicked when Super 12 came along because they wouldn’t have had the dollars.
New Zealand had five teams in their conference this year, whereas the top qualifiers, the Lions from Johannesburg, had four teams and the other three weren’t much chop.
The Brumbies had the cheek to be disappointed they didn’t progress to the semifinals despite finishing 22 competition points behind the Hurricanes, who had to travel to frigid Canberra for their troubles last weekend.
The Blues are constantly disparaged and yet only three other teams outside New Zealand scored more competition points.
OBM deserved their triumph
Knockout rugby can be cruel, but few among the estimated 2500 to 3000 who watched Saturday’s Manawatu club final begrudged third qualifiers Old Boys-Marist (OBM) their first win with a hyphen and a farewell for coach Reece Robinson.
They did what the Canes did at Canberra and lifted their forwards grunt in the second half.
Poor Kia Toa. If they reach next year’s Hankins final, they might need a white-coated psychologist to deliver the team talk after losing their fourth consecutive final.
Turbos coach Jeremy Cotter will have been pleased to see his Turbos men among the OBMs leading the charge – Fraser Armstrong, Hunter Prescott and Ambrose Curtis – as well as big Fijian second-five Kameli Kuruyabaki, fullback Luther Hirini, who the Turbos signed out of Feilding High School, and veteran lock Chris Long. So pleased was Long afterwards he toasted his wife and said, “see you Tuesday”.
With playoffs, it’s about timing your run. Round-robin winners Varsity will justifiably claim they were the most consistent team all season. They twice beat each of the other three top-four teams over the two rounds of regular play, but that will soon be forgotten after they pitch-poled against Kias in the semi.
Varsity will recall they too won the Hankins as third qualifiers last season by toppling OBM with a last-second penalty and then Kia Toa in the final with a late try.
Such a waste
Malakai Fekitoa might well have stayed in New Zealand if the All Blacks selectors had reassured him.
Instead, when the squad to face the British and Irish Lions was named, he was omitted. That was similar to when the Blues ignored him and, feeling rejected, he scarpered to the Highlanders in 2014.
In the All Blacks’ hour of need, he was called up for the third Lions test. But that was too late and now he’s off to Toulon in the prime of his career as a 25 year old.
He could be erratic and tackle high, but he was an experienced midfield attacker with 25 tests to his name.