Can Super Rugby get tribal too?

AlsBoyce Roar Guru

By AlsBoyce, AlsBoyce is a Roar Guru


71 Have your say

    The current Super Rugby format doesn’t seem to be working. Four of five New Zealand teams are dominating, while Australian teams still languish, with South African performances in between.

    By contrast, Northern Hemisphere rugby competitions are thriving. Rugby is the second most popular sport in France, where tribalism is strong.

    What is tribalism anyway? Most seem to agree that it’s a necessary factor for the success of a competition. Tribalism probably means that there is a lively and consistent crowd at home matches, who go there through thick and thin – welded-on supporters who just want to feel they are part of something.

    Tribalism means that the supporters can enjoy the matches even if their team is having a rough trot. But before a club can enjoy their supporters’ trust, they must earn it over an extended period. The fans must feel close to the club – have skin in the game.

    Format changes and talk of other changes are a major detriment to the development and maintenance of that feeling of tribalism.

    The Super Rugby format has changed this year by dropping one Australian team, the Western Force, and two South African teams, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings.

    Those two South African teams then grafted themselves on to the UK Pro14 competition, apparently successfully. The closeness of the timezones of South Africa and UK make TV viewing in South Africa more attractive – a clear danger signal for continued participation by South African teams in Super Rugby.

    Crowds are poor in Australia, where local teams have not consistently performed at the level fans want to see. Those performances have shown a range of problems, from basic skills, to a failure to recognise when a strategy isn’t working.

    An example of that was the continued use of Taqele Naiyaravoro in the midfield by the Waratahs against the Lions, seemingly denying to themselves that he was being gang-tackled, having the ball stripped, or knocking on, resulting in continual turnovers and no gain-line success.

    Now, if he was a decoy instead, there would have been a ton of space available for exploitation.

    Taqele Naiyaravoro of the Waratahs

    (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

    Clever players are required to play cleverly. Does that mean that the Waratahs have a lack of cleverness among their ranks? How does the coaching impinge upon what the players do on the field? Are the players unable to think for themselves, or do they feel constrained to doggedly follow the coaching plan?

    Crowds in New Zealand are better, but not great by any means, and they have the advantage of strongly performing teams, as well as having five unchanged franchises from the 1996 start of Super Rugby.

    The Crusaders have had strong support throughout, and the Hurricanes are building it now on the back of strong success. The Chiefs have generally struggled to get big crowds, and the Highlanders do have rusted on support in the true sense of tribalism. The Blues are doing poorly on and off the field.

    Crowds are reasonable in South Africa, with the better-performing teams draw better crowds – again, on-field performances play a big part there.

    TV audiences were up a little at the start of the year off a low, probably unsustainable base in Australia, perhaps because a new format invited viewer optimism.

    The key to rugby that crowds want to go to and audiences will watch on TV is games where both teams have a good chance of victory.

    On the flipside, a confusing format – involving conferences where teams from one conference play each other twice, and play only some teams from the other conferences once – is an audience turn-off.

    On this point, SANZAAR seem to think that the local derbies are good for Super Rugby, leading thme to easily gloss over the loss of the competition’s integrity.

    The original Super Rugby format – three Australian, four South African and five New Zealand teams – worked well, with teams only playing one full round, and no local derby double-ups. But by trying to milk TV revenue, SANZAAR have damaged the product.

    The domination of New Zealand teams is now having a detrimental effect, which started in earnest when the competition started the conference system. Because of the relative strength of New Zealand rugby, their local derbies mean more matches for New Zealand teams against the strongest opposition – other Kiwi teams.

    It also aids a faster cross-pollination of ideas between their teams, with more productive experimentation further improving them, with a flow-on to the All Blacks as well.

    That said, Super Rugby is salvageable, but SANZAAR need to go back to the original format, admit that they buggered up and apologise.

    They also need to commit to that format for at least ten years without any alteration. If that means that there is less TV revenue, so less cash to pay players, then stars will go to the Northern Hemisphere, but others always step up to take their place, and the supporters will warm to them quickly.

    The tribes, once properly established, will stay loyal.

    Super Rugby needs a presence on free-to-air TV in Australia, with two live matches per week in the 5pm to 10pm timeslot on Friday or Saturday the minimum. An ‘Extra Time’ package each week, shown maybe at multiple different times, is also mandatory.

    But the development of Aussie junior rugby is the most important aspect for the long-term health and viability of the game. If Super Rugby goes belly-up, we need enough organisational skills and paid development officers to get competitions back into public schools, with coordination and affiliations to local clubs for assistance.

    The 2016 Shute Shield final – between Northern Suburbs and Sydney University – drew a capacity crowd of about 20,000 and the atmosphere was electric. In 2017 it was nearly as good when Norths played Warringah. That’s where the tribes went. They aren’t lost yet.

    To have both a tribal passion for local club rugby and the common tribal passion for its Super Rugby team is the dream – and it can still happen.

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • May 10th 2018 @ 3:17am
      Clyde said | May 10th 2018 @ 3:17am | ! Report

      ‘The domination of New Zealand teams is now having a detrimental effect‘

      I wish people would stop saying this. It is rather the incompetence of RA that is having a detrimental effect, and also the players and coaches who still look at themselves in the mirror everyday and smile at the 38 zero thinking it’s okay.

      • May 10th 2018 @ 7:14am
        Ex force fan said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:14am | ! Report

        Is it an admission that Australia cannot compete? A cop out?

        • Roar Guru

          May 10th 2018 @ 7:57am
          AlsBoyce said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:57am | ! Report

          Maybe it is an admission. But an admission is not a cop out.
          We certainly don’t want to hand any advantages to NZ.
          The instigation of the Warriors in the NRL has also played a part in bringing the current NRL attack and defense tricks to a NZ TV audience, giving NZ the opportunity to get a source of information that was previously much less accessable. That’s not going to change, but the local derbies are both boring and assist NZ more than Australia or South Africa.
          Australia used to win by guts, skills and cleverness. We can still do the guts, but we’re struggling on the skills and particularly the cleverness. This isn’t the fault of anyone but Australian Rugby itself, and are pressing issues that must be addressed before the Wallabies and Super Rugby teams show any consistent success. But providing formats for NZ to gain further advantage is not helping.

          • May 10th 2018 @ 11:27am
            RUSerious said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

            Australian Rugby League was broadcast on NZ TV long before the warriors were established so I don’t see how that has made a difference.

          • May 10th 2018 @ 12:53pm
            bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            “but the local derbies are both boring and assist NZ more than Australia or South Africa”.

            Why and how is it helping New Zealand.
            Why and how is it not helping Australia.
            Why and how is it not helping South Africa.

            “But providing formats for NZ to gain further advantage is not helping”.

            Hopfully you’ve answered this one above because it sounds like Australia shouldn’t play each other or the games shouldn’t be televised, that probably not going help Tribalism IMO.

            • Roar Guru

              May 10th 2018 @ 1:05pm
              AlsBoyce said | May 10th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

              I said that the local derbies format favoured the stronger NZ conference because their teams play the best teams (themselves mostly) more often.

              I also said that the NZ teams have an advantage because they are the same teams that started the Super Rugby competition in 1996. No adding or removing teams in NZ. This means that their conference and support hasn’t been disjointed by the changed SR formats.
              Aus Rugby was in total meltdown last year over the Force dumping, and the SA loss of two teams to the Northern Hemisphere caused them grief too.

              • May 10th 2018 @ 1:37pm
                bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

                Sorry mate, your comment above sort reds like your talking about televised broadcasts.
                I can’t see how the addition of a team or 2 is going to put bums on seats in the ACT, Sydney or Brisbane if they are in or out though. As for longevity of the New Zealand franchises from a supporter fan base point a view, I’m convinced, Aucklanders will always follow Auckland, Highlanders same, Chiefs same, etc.
                For me it would be in reverse, if the Highlanders were dropped I would be straight on to the Crusaders, wouldn’t be happy about it, but the love of rugby is bigger.

        • May 10th 2018 @ 12:10pm
          mikey12 said | May 10th 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

          I’d like to see how NZ would go if they had to divide their players amongst another 2 major egg ball codes??

          they would still pump out good players if they were divided, afl would consider a no-no cause of the size of the forwards in union.

      • Roar Guru

        May 10th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Timbo (L) said | May 10th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Well it’s got me following kiwi sides.

        • May 10th 2018 @ 1:39pm
          bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Welcome aboard Tim, glad to have ya.

          • Roar Guru

            May 10th 2018 @ 6:26pm
            Timbo (L) said | May 10th 2018 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

            Highlanders though – Not everyone fist choice.
            Blues only because they are underdogs.
            Canes, Don’t like them on principle but I have to respect them they are great to watch.

    • May 10th 2018 @ 3:56am
      ForceFan said | May 10th 2018 @ 3:56am | ! Report

      The tribe in WA known as the Sea of Blue has been well and truly re-establlshed and already has a common tribal passion for its team – the Western Force.

      But the Western Force wasn’t wanted in Super Rugby.

      The kick-off for World Series Rugby went well – just need to maintain the passion at all levels.

      It already had games to watch on freee-to-air TV.

      • May 10th 2018 @ 7:18am
        Ex force fan said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:18am | ! Report

        “To have both a tribal passion for local club rugby and the common tribal passion for its Super Rugby team is the dream – and it can still happen.”

        Come to WA and watch your dream come true… It was dumb to axe the Force tribe…

        • Roar Guru

          May 10th 2018 @ 7:46am
          AlsBoyce said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

          I agree 100% with that. Rebels certainly should have been dropped instead.

          • May 10th 2018 @ 8:47am
            bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

            That’s a short sighted view that hasn’t worked at all to strengthen any side to a competitive level.
            NO ONE should have been dropped, exposure to the top level rugby for Australian players has now dropped by 20%.
            That would 20% less choice and one Tribe missing. Awesome thought processes at work.

            • May 10th 2018 @ 10:34am
              ForceFan said | May 10th 2018 @ 10:34am | ! Report


            • Roar Rookie

              May 10th 2018 @ 10:54am
              piru said | May 10th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

              No one should have been dropped – RA has this habit of setting up long term systems and then canning them in the short term if they don’t get a result straightaway – ask the ARC

            • May 10th 2018 @ 11:28am
              bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:28am | ! Report

              Personally I don’t think it’s over for you boys over there with the RA’s revolving door policies.
              It will have to be a different format though with a genuine home away, NO COMFERENCES and I would also like to see a Champions Cup type arrangement with the winners of Super, England and France comps playing off at some stage, with the games to be played in 1 Country alternating.

              • Roar Rookie

                May 10th 2018 @ 11:37am
                piru said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

                I actually don’t mind the conferences, but I think they are, as so much of super rugby is, a half measure that isn’t quite here or there.

                I reckon the best way forward would be to make the ‘conferences’ individual comps.
                Add a couple of teams to each group and play solely within your own comp – including finals.

                THEN the top two teams of each comp go into a champions league type cup held over 4 or 5 weeks against the other “conferences”.

              • May 10th 2018 @ 11:56am
                bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

                Have you got Twiggy’s number.

              • Roar Rookie

                May 10th 2018 @ 12:13pm
                piru said | May 10th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

                He has offices round the corner, maybe I’ll go visit him

              • May 10th 2018 @ 12:37pm
                bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report


              • Roar Guru

                May 10th 2018 @ 6:31pm
                Timbo (L) said | May 10th 2018 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

                Piru, Spot on.

                NRC, Mitre 10, Currie.
                Would like to see a winners comp at the end,

              • May 10th 2018 @ 9:25pm
                Sterling said | May 10th 2018 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

                Timbo L,

                I think you could add JAP Top League to that list and it would still work. All of those comps are played Sep – Nov ish if I remember.

                First past the post in each comp, then top 2 from each (8 teams all up) play in Champs League Mar – May of next year.


                Aren’t the Euro champs crowned at the end of May? If so, then you could have a final between the winners of each Champs league for world champs!

          • Roar Guru

            May 10th 2018 @ 10:55am
            Timbo (L) said | May 10th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

            Can I pitch a middle ground.

            The Rebels Financial and supporter performance should have put them in the cross hairs for “Exiting”. But even as a Force Fan, I can recognize that Melbourne would have been equally justified to be outraged if it was them that got cut. Victoria has grass roots programs that need a connection to elite pathways too.

            The answer, clear as day, was a merger. Logistics would have been messy but worth it.

            • May 10th 2018 @ 8:46pm
              Ex force fan said | May 10th 2018 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

              A merger for 2018-2020 seasons would have worked better than alienating a State and encouraging a competitive competition to,get up.

    • Roar Rookie

      May 10th 2018 @ 6:14am
      Alex James said | May 10th 2018 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      The tribalism idea is fine and valid in terms of crowds but the super Rugby season is not conducive to tribalism in the same way as the French top 14 or the English premiership.
      An English premiership team plays 11 home games as part of the premiership, another 3 or 4 home games in a European competition and then the Anglo Welsh cup couple of fixtures. Plus there are weekly 2nd team games. Then, possibly play offs etc. it’s a lot of games to go to and build a rapport with the other fans.
      Plus some away games in both England and France are in a reasonable distance so travelling as an away group of supporters becomes more possible.
      Only 8 home games and really long distance away games will not help build the fans as a group. It isn’t just isn’t enough games regardless of conferences or derbies. Shute shield etc is more appealing for many because it’s local and they can travel to away games as well.

    • May 10th 2018 @ 7:28am
      bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      The NZ dominance as a controllable factor is a joke (keep up). The format is certainly not helping for sure, but,
      Results Results Results Results Results Results is the way to build a sustained supporter base.

      • Roar Pro

        May 10th 2018 @ 9:19am
        Melburnian said | May 10th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        Australian franchises are getting results … just not ones that engender tribalism, more like despair.

        • May 10th 2018 @ 11:34am
          bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          Well played.
          I guess if it wasn’t for Bad Luck they would have No Luck scenario.

    • May 10th 2018 @ 7:33am
      lesterlike said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Not a chance, there is so much going against Super Rugby in this sense.

      – The season is too short to build a consistent following
      – There are zero local derbies (in the proper sense of the word)
      – Fans don’t care about 2/3 of opposition
      – It’s littered with plastic franchises (too scared to use their geographic locations)
      – The competition doesn’t actually have any meaning other than servicing as a international selection trial.

      • May 10th 2018 @ 11:02am
        RUSerious said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        The IPL has a consistent following and only lasts two months. The NFL has exactly the same number of regular season games as Super Rugby and seems pretty successful so I don’t think the length of the season is really a barrier.

        I also fail to see how renaming them the Waikato Chiefs or the Western Stormers is really going to generate tribalism.

        I agree with your other points though.

        • May 10th 2018 @ 1:59pm
          lesterlike said | May 10th 2018 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

          Neither the IPL or NFL exists to develop a following, they are there for the benefit of owners and broadcasters. Their respective sports are already top dog in their country and exist for TV numbers. not the passion of fans.

          The Aviva Premiership and Top 14 are brilliant for fans because they give a local professional rugby outlet for fans for the majority of the year. You get a minimum of 13 home domestic games in your local town + ECC games. Compare that to somewhere like Melbourne where you get 15 games in total and then are meant to be satisfied with one International in your city for the other half of the year. It is not engaging and by the time the season starts to get a narrative, it’s all over and you’re expected to follow a completely different team in a semi pro competition.

          As for naming, yes it is everything. If people can’t identify where teams are from, then they are just bland franchises that no one cares about beating, let alone supporting in the first place.

    • May 10th 2018 @ 8:03am
      julius said | May 10th 2018 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      “The current Super Rugby format doesn’t seem to be working. Four of five New Zealand teams are dominating, while Australian teams still languish, with South African performances in between.”

      Translation: Australia is losing; let’s knock the chess board over.

      Is the writer of the article aware that the format of the competition (which confuses him so much) was designed to help Australian teams: get unmerited places in the finals.

      Roll on the day NZ, SA and Argentina Super rugby teams form their own competition. Leave the Australians to their flashing goalposts, ten point tries and inane gimmickry.

      • Roar Guru

        May 10th 2018 @ 10:32am
        AlsBoyce said | May 10th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        Just because there is an interpretation that local derbies were somehow going to help the weaker teams doesn’t make that prognosis correct. It isn’t. Local derbies are boring as well. Playing the same team about 3 weeks later seems ridiculous.
        But if NZ want to dump Australia and team up with SA and Argentina for another new competition. Whoopee! , good luck to them.
        I have to say that would be pretty good Julius.
        Maybe in Australia we could just have NRC up in a longer format on free-to-air TV as well as club rugby. Or maybe just club rugby and tests.

        • May 10th 2018 @ 11:40am
          bluffboy said | May 10th 2018 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          Holy Clamp you took a big bite of Julius dangle there.
          Make no bones about it New Zealand has as much skin the game to bring Australian sides back to where they need to be.

          • May 10th 2018 @ 4:07pm
            julius said | May 10th 2018 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

            NZ has no responsibility to do anything for the Australian Super Rugby sides. It is AUSTRALIA’S responsibility to field competitive teams. If it can’t, the broadcasters will ask for teams to be added that are competitive. It is a fantasy that NZ will sacrifice its position for Australian rugby. That would be like giving a loan to a drug addict.

            • Roar Guru

              May 10th 2018 @ 5:30pm
              AlsBoyce said | May 10th 2018 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

              Who asked NZ to help?
              We just want a competition that’s interesting, and the SR original 1996 format was really good.

              • May 10th 2018 @ 7:00pm
                julius said | May 10th 2018 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

                I agree with you about going back to the original format. Remember, it was John O’Neill that stamped his feet about getting another team…and then another.