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Not so Super Rugby

Alex James new author
Roar Rookie
23rd June, 2017
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The Rebels are a victim of the ARU's failings. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Alex James new author
Roar Rookie
23rd June, 2017
41
1451 Reads

Rugby in Australia is in a mess. There is no hiding from it.

The Wallabies were beaten by Scotland in Sydney, the Super teams are routinely beaten by the New Zealand teams. There have been a few wins between them in South Africa and Argentina but on the whole the picture is pretty depressing with dismal attendances at the home grounds even for the ‘local’ derbies.

Every forum you read has barbed comments about Bill Pulver and the ARU. Punters offering almost endless statistics on why Perth is better than Melbourne or vice versa and which team should be retained. And no-one is watching it on TV.

I personally don’t see any point in agonising over money that has already gone and am not wholly sure that attendances at the Fiji game in Melbourne this year or the Argentina game in Perth a couple of years ago should be a principal reason for ‘culling’ a team.

I do however see Super Rugby as one of the main culprits in the decline of the standard of Australian rugby at the top level.

I mean when you sit back and look at it, the situation is crazy – 18 teams of professional sportsmen playing across multiple time zones, now in Southern Hemisphere and occasionally Northern Hemisphere conditions, week in and week out.

Every good player in New Zealand will have had at least one go at their opposite number before the international season kicks off, and more than likely it will have been a winning experience.

How are you ever supposed to catch the All Blacks off guard when every Kiwi prop has mastered their opposite number previously and most of the backs can look at the Australian backline and have pleasant recent memories of slipping a tackle or running past them for a try in acres of space?

Amanaki Mafi of the Rebels

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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The main reason for the removal of three teams from the competition as I understand it is to improve the competitiveness of all teams and therefore improve the competition.

This from SANZAAR but I’m fairly sure also from the Broadcasters. Why else would they change the format in the middle of the cycle? No one is watching, but people have been watching less and less over the years. Why now?

One problem could be the success of the Champions Cup in Europe. When they changed this format, they didn’t send any teams down the waste chute in the process.

The traditional TV market of the UK and Europe must be turning off Super Rugby to watch their own teams instead. More punters watching domestic rugby than Super Rugby? Surely not.

There has been plenty of evidence to suggest that the rugby public in both New Zealand and Australia are not watching the Super competition on Sky/Foxtel. So why would the broadcasters keep paying for it if it weren’t for the appeal of the tournament to overseas markets?

From memory, in the UK, most sport on Sky is punctuated by adverts for Sky or for betting companies. When Skybet launched, they used the slogan: ‘It matters more when there’s money on it.’

I took this to mean the people at Sky saying to the punters: ‘It matters more (to us) when there’s (your) money on it.’

If the competition here in the Southern Hemisphere is not competitive enough, that tells me that from the broadcaster’s point of view, people won’t watch a foregone conclusion and from the advertiser’s point of view, people won’t bet on a foregone conclusion. Not a good investment.

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So what better way to improve the odds (intentional pun but admittedly poor) than to sack off three franchises worth of employees, fans and so on.

The amount of passion in the forums from supporters of all five teams in Australia makes me wonder why we don’t see it so much of it at the actual games.

Has the Super Rugby tournament completely neutered that intra-national pride? Being the best team in Australia seems to count for little in rugby union but it is everything in NRL, AFL and soccer. It gives players and supporters a sense of pride and achievement. It even gets on free-to-air TV.

Maybe time to consider a knockout competition to replace the Super Rugby system? Pools followed by knockout stage?

Games against overseas opposition would be less regular. You may only play the Blues in Auckland once every three or four years but you could have two competitions that you could potentially win.

Plus, if the games were that competitive, the betting companies, advertisers and TV broadcasters would be lining up the funds. It might be worth thinking about before the actual end of the broadcasting cycle. What happens if it is then decided that Australia should ‘cull’ another two teams?