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The Wrap: How Super Rugby can help save the environment

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9th February, 2020
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Super Rugby ran into colour issues in Round 2. More on some questionable away strips later, but the folly of SANZAAR doing away with geographic identification in favour of supposedly more marketable names was exposed in comical circumstances.

Twenty minutes into the Blues versus Waratahs match a casual rugby-watching acquaintance – who had done remarkably well to be still watching to that point – came to the realisation that the team they thought was the Blues was actually the team in white and the team in blue wasn’t actually the Blues but the Waratahs.

They weren’t the only one confused. When Waratah Mark Nawaqanitawase flew spectacularly through the air to dot down in the corner in the 60th minute, Fox Sports added five points to the Blues’ score. Was that more colour confusion or Fox clocking off early from Super Rugby?

It was a similar story in Johannesburg, where a casual fan might have been thinking, not unreasonably, that the Reds were the team wearing Red when that was actually the Lions.

In Newcastle referee AJ Jacobs got his colours mixed up too, showing the (white) Blues’ Hoskins Sotutu a red card instead of the one he intended, a yellow. It’s debatable, but if he’d sent a handful of Blues off, it might not have made any difference to the result, such was the impotence of the Waratahs.

Coach Rob Penney stated the obvious afterwards. In all reality this is a rebuilding year for the Waratahs. But none of that excuses an absence of the intensity and aggression required to measure up at this level.

Rob Simmons of the Waratahs looks on

(Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

With the Chiefs putting the Blues loss in Round 1 into perspective, theirs was another step forward. Their pack was solid, and winger Mark Talea enjoyed the space provided him on the left wing, helping himself to three tries. And how refreshing was it to see a side run the ball from first phase after the final siren instead of lamely kicking it out – and being rewarded for it!

The Sharks franked their good New Zealand form with a convincing 42-20 win over a Highlanders side who played as if it was their first match of the season – which it was. Another side in rebuild mode.

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The Rebels sabotaged any hope they had of another away win in Canberra with an appalling start: 14-0 down in a flash and 24-0 not long afterwards. To be fair, the Brumbies were close to perfect for 35 minutes, but any side that turns up without a functioning set-piece, frittering away penalties like confetti, is asking for trouble.

Some direct play from Angus Cottrell sparked a much-improved second-half performance, even if the result was never in question. At least they now have a platform from which to belatedly kick-start their season this week against the Waratahs.

The Brumbies have a nice balance to their side – as always, they’re a threat at the lineout maul and, with two contrasting, explosive finishers on the wings.

The match of the round came in Hamilton, where Sevu Reece gave Damian McKenzie a taste of the sweet step he served up to Makazole Mapimpi in Yokohama. The Chiefs hung tough defensively, however, and fully deserved their 25-15 win over the champions.

A word for prop Ross Geldenhuys who, making his debut for the Chiefs at the age of 36, has now appeared for six Super Rugby franchises. Can he sneak another one in before the doom merchants have the competition shut down?

Aaron Cruden playing for the Chiefs

Aaron Cruden (Renee McKay/Getty Images)

In South Africa the Stormers shut out the Bulls who, two matches in, are yet to score a try. Best for all concerned to move on from this one.

Reds’ fans weren’t happy with referee Jaco Peyper, but a tight match with a seven-point margin is not the place to start playing silly buggers on your own goal line, not contesting a Lions lineout maul.

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World Rugby’s Laws of the Game contains a preamble which states “the contest for possession of the ball is one of rugby’s key features”. The Reds, to their cost, forgot this, and those seven points, given up voluntarily, proved the difference.

Finally, it was the Jordie Barrett show in Buenos Aires, the lanky opening bowler pulling off a miraculous try-saving tackle and slapping over a 62-metre penalty that still had plenty to spare as it sailed over.

The Jaguares were by no means poor, and they led by 23-12 into the final 15 minutes. But not able to put the Hurricanes away, they were exposed by a rollicking finish, with Jamie Booth finishing off superb lead-up work by Ngani Laumape to ice the win in the 78th minute.

Emiliano Boffelli runs the ball for the Jaguares

Emiliano Boffelli (Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Much was made last week about reports in the News Corp press that Foxtel had walked away from negotiations with Rugby Australia and will not be broadcasting rugby from 2021 onwards.

Three points stand out:

  1. Media cross-ownership means that we should treat any reporting in a newspaper about ongoing commercial negotiations concerning a TV network under the same ownership with extreme caution.
  2. Ever tried to sell or buy a house at auction? Until the process is exhausted, comments from all parties should be taken with a grain of salt. At the end of the day what is actually important is who pays for the rights and how much they pay for them, not the brinkmanship that precedes this.
  3. Many pundits are prepared to call the end of Foxtel’s association with rugby as the ‘death of Australian rugby’. In 2019 Foxtel’s earnings were down 30 per cent over the previous year, subscriber churn was up and majority owner News Corp was required to inject $500 million into the ailing business to keep it afloat.

While the prognosis for Australian rugby is concerning, what we are witnessing is not the death of rugby but the slow, agonising decline of Foxtel.

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Complicating matters are reports that South Africa is in negotiation to join what would become an expanded Seven Nations tournament following the 2023 World Cup. If correct, this would have a material effect on Rugby Australia’s broadcast rights tender. With South Africa’s place in SANZAAR up in the air, what exactly would it be that Rugby Australia is selling to broadcasters?

Long term, the potential advantages for South Africa are obvious, but cooler heads might point to them having previously affirmed commitment to SANZAAR through to 2030 and having signed agreements in place through to 2025.

There is also the matter of the all-powerful English and French clubs who won’t take kindly any proposal that further cuts into their competitions as a Seven Nations would. Oh, and the source of the report? That noble bastion of investigative journalism, Daily Mail Online.

Finally this week news is from the BAFTA awards, where best actor winner Joaquin Phoenix endeared himself to audiences when it was revealed that in the interest of environmental sustainability he has worn the same tuxedo to three awards ceremonies and will continue to wear it to other ceremonies during the awards season.

There is precedent for this. In 2014 it was revealed that in a stunt to highlight sexism in the television industry Today presenter Karl Stefanovic wore the same suit every day for a year, and nobody noticed.

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Perhaps nobody would have noticed Phoenix wearing the same suit too, but we’ll never know because he and his supporters deemed that signalling his action was as important as the action itself. What they didn’t reveal was Phoenix’s travel plans for his return to the United States, although one assumes that he is a strong swimmer.

Why is this important? One, we can take comfort in the knowledge that next summer’s bushfire season will be made less threatening by this selfless gesture reversing the impact of global warming.

Secondly, there is a lesson for rugby to take. In the interest of environmental sustainability and good taste, how about Super Rugby franchises do away with ‘away’ strips that serve no purpose?

There have been some shockers in recent times: the Stormers’ ‘tangerine dream’ and the Highlanders’ ‘tradies outfit’ spring to mind. The current low marker was thought to be owned by the Hurricanes, but even their drab grey strip was outdone by the Crusaders, forever associated with red and black, adding pastel blue sleeve trim to go with their grey.

If the reason for these insipid away strips is to drive merchandising revenue, is it fair to ask if any fan ever purchases them?

We might be coming from different places, but let us #standwithJoaquin. When you find a good suit, stick to it.