There’s a classic pick-up line in the last season of Seinfeld, where Jerry starts talking to a quite attractive woman at a party, and says, “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I can run really, really fast!”
And I bring this up, because “You wouldn’t know it to look at me…” seems to be SANZAAR’s approach to recognising a fairly significant moment in the history of the Super Rugby competition this week.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but an Argentinean side will play in our Super Rugby Final for the first time in history…
From the moment the Jaguares confirmed their maiden appearance in the Final, with an emphatic 39-7 demolition of the Brumbies in Buenos Aires on Saturday morning, you could see what the achievement meant to the players. You could see what it meant to their coach Gonzalo Quesada – and you could certainly see what it meant to the 31,000 people in at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
In just their fourth season of Super Rugby, the Jaguares had reached the Final in unprecedented speed. Saturday’s Final will be just their 66th appearance in the competition, and the win over the Brumbies in the Semi-Final was the one to finally tip their overall win-loss record into positive territory.
They are the first Super Rugby expansion side to make the final.
The best the Cheetahs did in twelve seasons was one elimination final, and now they’re blazing a trail for South African players (and teams) in the northern hemisphere along with the Southern Kings.
The Western Force never played finals rugby. The Melbourne Rebels should have by now, but blew a very strong chance they had to qualify. Twice, in fact.
The Sunwolves won’t ever get the chance, of course, barring some kind of rugby miracle in 2020. And perhaps the mother of all backflips from the Japanese Rugby Football Union for seasons beyond that, now that the mooted World Rugby Nations Championship basket they were throwing all their eggs into is now just moot.
But it’s not just the expansion sides looking on enviously at what the Jaguares have achieved in four seasons.
The Stormers, the professional arm of Western Province rugby in South Africa, and playing out of the one of the truly iconic venues in the game globally, have never made a Super Rugby Final.
The Lions took twenty seasons to reach their first final. Queensland took 16, the Chiefs 14, and the Bulls 12 seasons to reach their first Final.
The 2006 Final – the ‘fog game’ – was the Hurricanes first appearance in a Final, and that took them eleven seasons. And then you couldn’t see them in the Final anyway. The Waratahs took a decade to reach a decider as well.
But they were all there from day one of Super Rugby (before that, even, if you want to want to look at the amateur precursor competitions), and developed as the competition itself developed.
The Jaguares came into a competition that had been going twenty years, and attempted through an ambitious plan of repatriation to build a professional provincial team based in Argentina.
Three seasons later, they played a first-ever playoffs game, and four seasons into their existence, they’re in a Final.
It’s quite an incredible achievement.
But any recognition of this has been largely in-house to date, but with well-earned and obviously relevant mentions in any reporting of the semi-finals.
At an official level, SANZAAR has been so very typically silent.
Since Saturday’s initial confirmation that the Jaguares had “produced a superb display to qualify for their first Super Rugby final,” there’s been nothing on the governing bodies website.
On the official Twitter stream, @SuperRugby, a retweet of the Jaguares’ own post naming their “28 jugadores” squad en route to Christchurch is all we’ve had since the posts on Saturday confirming the participants in, and the details of the Final. The official Facebook and Instagram pages are no better.
Yet again, the social media and online presence for the Final so far has been left to Crusaders and the Jaguares themselves, and the New Zealand and Argentinean unions themselves.
Indeed, New Zealand Rugby’s own Super Rugby-specific twitter handle (@SuperRugbyNZ) has been prolific by comparison; an example that highlights both how underwhelming the governing body is when it comes to promoting what it still describes as “the Southern Hemisphere’s pre-eminent rugby tournament”, and how self-interest drives NZR to do its own inwardly-focussed promotion of Super Rugby.
A quick venture to the webpage and social handles for the European Champions Cup is depressing in comparison.
Of course, none of this at all surprising, and I have mentioned before that SANZAAR as an organisation is little more than ten or a dozen people operating out of an office in Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
We keep being told that Super Rugby just isn’t carrying the same cut-through that it once did, and that engagement levels with long-term fans – never mind potential new ones – have never been lower. But what else should we expect when the member unions show no interest in resourcing SANZAAR to the levels that would be required to even attempt rectifying this?
So as a result, what should be a huge week in the competition’s history is going to be just another week with a cup presented at the end of it. There might be no better example of the shell of a formerly great competition that Super Rugby has been allowed to become.
The one positive in all this, is that it’s been sites like The Roar who have been providing not just great coverage of the Jaguares’ run to the Final – a point recognised last week by Argentina’s main newspaper, La Nacion, funnily enough – and among that, you may well have noticed the sudden lift in South American Roarers in our midst.
This has been a wonderful addition, in my humble opinion, and in no small part to the widely respected opinions we’ve enjoyed by our long-term Argentinean brethren, and in particular Nobes, who is about to rack up a third straight top two finish in the tipping panel.
Clearly, we have long enjoyed the very common language that rugby provides the world over, and we are already celebrating a nice little moment in Super Rugby history.
And maybe SANZAAR are, too. You just wouldn’t know it to look at them.