Struggling to comprehend the decision to cut the Sunwolves from Super Rugby from 2021? Ask any musician to explain how the politics works.
Think of SANZAAR as a band.
South Africa is the lead guitarist/lead singer/songwriter. The record deal they landed was because of them. They regularly field offers from other bands offering them more money to leave and play with them instead. Oh, and it’s their van.
New Zealand is the keyboardist, the most talented and creative muso, while Australia is the rhythm guitarist, sometimes out of tune and prone to upsetting fans. Both would like things to be different but, at the end of the day, they can’t afford to rock the boat.
Argentina is the bass player, who lives two hours away from everyone else, which makes arranging rehearsals a real pain. They will do anything to suck up to the lead guitarist.
Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are the backing singers. Everyone loves the colour they add, but the budget doesn’t allow for them to go on tour and become full members of the band.
Agustin Pichot is the scheming behind-the-scenes band promoter.
The Sunwolves are the drummer.
More so, they are a drummer whose dad is no longer prepared to make the hire purchase instalments on that four-year-old drum kit.
After news of the Sunwolves’ demise was made official on Friday afternoon, amplifiers around the rugby world cranked up to 11, as media and fans alike once again lined up to give SANZAAR a thorough kicking.
Among many vociferous calls for the band to be broken up, ESPN’s Sam ‘Yoko’ Bruce, implored: “It’s time the alliance was left to rot on the scrapheap.”
Well perhaps, but that’s just the thing about a band: its true worth is almost always the collective sum of all of its parts.
For every lead singer who goes on to enjoy a successful solo career, there are hundreds of other groups and individuals who sink without trace as soon as the band breaks up.
Which is exactly what would happen if Australia went solo and pursued a domestic solution.
Regular readers of this column know the drill.
As infuriating as SANZAAR’s stumble through expansion and contraction, as difficult as managing the conflicting objectives of each member, as illogical as some of the decision-making, and as consistently poor SANZAAR’s engagement and communication with their supporter base is, not one critic has yet been able to propose a better alternative.
In fact, it is SANZAAR’s maligned administrators who have – through World Rugby – potentially engineered an improved outcome, via the proposed Nations Championship, scheduled to kick-off in 2022.
If things fall their way and a global deal is ratified – and SANZAAR is currently hopeful rather than confident – Australia and New Zealand’s position will be substantially improved.
Not just in pure financial terms, but because the underlying commercial arrangement that currently encompasses the four SANZAAR nations, will become a more secure and broader alliance with the home nations.
The rugby world might then be less about the rich north and poor south, but potentially become a more balanced, global concern.
In rugby’s highly competitive commercial arena, it is exceedingly risky for Australia and New Zealand to be so reliant on broadcast rights revenue from a Super Rugby competition that is being gradually diminished through loss of players to the northern hemisphere competitions.
The new Nations Championship will shift the commercial emphasis away from Super Rugby.
And heaven forbid if this results in better decisions about Super Rugby being made for rugby reasons, rather than the competition forever being compromised by the need to keep the bailiff from the door.
Disappointment about the demise of the Sunwolves is understandable.
I for one, will sorely miss what they and their fans bring to Super Rugby, and complaints about the conference system have been overblown.
But the truth is, the Sunwolves have fallen through the crack that is the JRU’s focus on the World Cup, and private enterprise’s commitment to the Japanese Top League.
Further, any promised commercial value to Super Rugby from the addition of the Sunwolves has failed to materialize.
Perhaps confused fans might care to consider this about SANZAAR – the real genius of Spinal Tap is that while the audience laughs at and mocks the band’s incompetence and delusion, its knowing creators are in on the joke, and laughing all the way to the bank.
While not a priority, locking in both the Nations Championship and a 14-team Super Rugby competition also opens up possibilities for SANZAAR to work with Andrew Forrest in the future, to solidify a second-tier competition aimed at tapping into the Asian market.
For that to happen though, a handbrake would need to be applied to Global Rapid Rugby’s lust for changing laws just for the sake of being different, and pretending that their ‘product’ offers something that it doesn’t.
Friday night’s Western Force versus World XV game once again proved that when you peel away the sycophantic hype of the commentary, what remains looks like a regular game of rugby, complete with dropped balls and re-set scrums.
By the way, GRR are yet to explain how reducing the game time to 70 minutes provides any benefit. If the product is as awesome as they insist, why go about providing less of it?
The match demonstrated two things: the ‘Honey Bachelor’ Nick Cummins drops a rugby ball as fast and as often as he dropped love-struck ladies on his TV show, and World XV hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate proved it is possible to play rugby after swallowing a whole sheep in the dressing shed beforehand.
There is of course nothing wrong with trying to improve the game, but contrast GRR’s naïve, marketing-driven approach to law variations with the evidence-based approach adopted by World Rugby to evolve the game and its laws.
A weekend press release summarised their recent symposium on law changes relative to player safety concerns, and outlined the next steps.
It illustrated how people from all levels of the sport, working co-operatively through complex matters, can provide excellent, sensible outcomes.
In Super Rugby action, the Blues’ winning try against the Highlanders featured direct running and support play, crisp handling, and patience, as pressure points were shifted and manipulated, until a hole finally opened for Patrick Tuipulotu.
Yes, that’s the Blues I’m talking about and no, it’s not yet April 1.
The All Blacks selectors’ requests for Akira Ioane to provide more forward momentum in attack and defence are evidently starting to take hold.
Add in hard-working ginger Tom Robinson and the Blues are developing one of the best 6-8 combos in the competition.
Viewers of the Hurricanes versus Stormers match, who got up after the players ran off at half-time for a pit stop and to replenish supplies, were left highly confused when they returned to the TV and found the panel chat being interrupted by more live action!
Had the players and referee forgotten to change direction for the second half? Was the quality of the game so high the Wellington crowd had demanded an encore? Turns out it was all Vaea Fifita’s fault.
The Stormers had multiple late opportunities to win from a line-out drive, but despite lacking muscle in the middle row, the Canes held out for a well-earned 34-28 result.
Well-earned also describes the Waratahs 20-12 upset win over the Crusaders at the SCG. A committed defensive effort – organisation and execution – allowed the champions only two tries, one after the final siren and one off an obviously forward pass.
Last year, fans and coaches made it clear to SANZAAR that they wanted to see less TMO intervention. But to allow George Bridge’s try to be awarded without any review was taking things to the opposite extreme.
The Lions are the wrong team for the Sunwolves to take on in a shootout – 37-24 to the visitors in front of a piddling few diehards, confirmation that the Singapore experiment has been an abject failure, on and off the field.
Improvement in the Chiefs has been noticeable over the last fortnight, but surely nobody expected them to put 50 points on the Bulls away from home?
Their dreadful start has hurt, but they have found better balance between forwards and backs, and are back in the competition.
After a 20-1 caning in the penalty count last week, the Rebels added another 9-2 against them by half-time against the Sharks. That’s no way to win in the Republic.
Stand-in captain Angus Cottrell was inspirational, but there wasn’t enough respect for ball security or firepower on the bench to prevent the Sharks eventually coasting to a 28-14 win.
To complete the round, the Reds and Brumbies sweated it out in the Suncorp sauna, the home side impressively recording their second win for the season, 36-14.
TMO Ian Smith also took heed of requests for minimal involvement, somehow missing Angus Scott-Young punch James Slipper in the head, while sideline officials used the same vision to insist on Slipper leaving the field for an HIA – go figure!
For a side that scores tries from line-outs for fun, the Brumbies losing four line-outs on their own throw in the first half was a surprise.
Perhaps that was down to the heat – both teams were affected, but the Brumbies stopped chasing kicks and a number of them appeared to be on the verge of melting.
Not that this should be considered unusual.
As David St Hubbins put it in This Is Spinal Tap: “Dozens of people spontaneously combust every year. It’s just not widely reported.”