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Opinion

Super Rugby's failure was letting Rebels exist for 14 pitiful years - one less also-ran is a blessing

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Expert
10th June, 2024
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So we’re all meant to be lamenting the loss of a Super Rugby Pacific franchise that made precisely one playoff appearance in its pitiful 14-year existence?

Wow, I can’t wait to see how we chronicle the demise of a team that actually won something.
The Rebels won’t be missed on this side of the Tasman. Just as no-one’s wishing the round-robin part of this competition could go on a bit longer.

There’s about five decent Super Rugby teams and everyone else just makes up the numbers.
Which is why I don’t care what the powers that be do to cobble together an 11-team competition next year. Frankly, having one less also-ran is a blessing.

I never wanted Super Rugby. We’d had a pretty good thing going in New Zealand for over 100 years, with our provincial model and promotion and relegation.

Filipo Daugunu and Lachie Anderson of the Rebels react after the final whistle in the Super Rugby Pacific Quarter Final match between Hurricanes and Melbourne Rebels at Sky Stadium, on June 08, 2024, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Filipo Daugunu and Lachie Anderson of the Rebels react after the final whistle in the Super Rugby Pacific Quarter Final match between Hurricanes and Melbourne Rebel. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Folk, at places such as New Zealand Rugby, can call our franchises “clubs” until the cows come home, but they are franchises.

They belong to the world of American sports, where you can be dismal every season as long as you don’t become an intolerable financial burden, like the Rebels have.

You’re not expected to win, or even contend for a title, yet you face no consequence for your failings. There’s no relegation waiting for you at the end.

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So we’re left with a competition in which we have only two weeks each season where the results matter or are of any interest: the semifinals and then the final.

I was trying to think of a competition that works, despite having just a two or three-horse race for the title.

I settled on the English Premier League because, at virtually all times, each of the 20 teams is playing for something, whether that’s the title, qualification for Europe or to avoid the drop into the Championship.

Results matter and there are consequences for losing. Just as there were in New Zealand provincial rugby, once upon a time.

Only we relegated the three-tiers of that competition to virtual obscurity in favour of franchises whose footprint misses whole swathes of our rugby community.

I don’t care that player pathways in Victoria are in peril or that the Melbourne Storm are now circling.

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Melbourne Rebels right lock emotionally looks on after his team's defeat in their last ever game after the Hurricanes and Melbourne Rebels fixture at the Sky Stadium on June 8th, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by James Foy/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Melbourne Rebels Josh Canham. (Photo by James Foy/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I’m more interested in the decline of rugby in provinces such as Poverty Bay, Northland and Wairarapa Bush.

The dear old Ranfurly Shield is only newsworthy when someone breaks it in half or there’s a mysterious white powder on it.

We have dismantled a model that stood us in tremendous stead for decades, in favour of a competition in which there’s literally only three games of consequence all season.

Any decent league would have relegated the Rebels years ago. The fact we allowed them to blunder on so long tells you everything you need to know about Super Rugby.

I quite enjoy the NRL, but that competition’s similarly tarnished by tolerating the terrible Wests Tigers.

I don’t see what value Australia’s franchises bring to Super Rugby. I don’t understand why we couldn’t have made New Zealand provincial rugby pay its way, as both a spectator and television product.

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I don’t see what’s gained from a weekend of quarterfinals that were all foregone conclusions.
We need to seriously think about what we’re trying to achieve from high-performance rugby and the extinction of the Rebels should be prompting that.

From a New Zealand perspective, we’ve sold out our heartland in favour of participating in a competition that puts rugby in places it doesn’t belong.

We favoured the big bucks from having games televised from Melbourne and Perth over nurturing the game across our own country.

Are we giving Moana Pasifika the best opportunity to succeed? Are we happy for the Highlanders to be consistently mediocre? Is it really better for the competition when the Crusaders don’t dominate?

Do we only stage Super Rugby to fulfil broadcast commitments or are we actually trying to encourage elite competition?

In absolute honesty, I do feel some pangs of regret about the Rebels but I don’t think we should look at them in isolation.

How many of these franchises are actually succeeding from a financial and playing perspective? And, if they’re not, why not?

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The failure of the Rebels is not theirs alone. When a franchise falls by the wayside, it’s a failure of everyone involved.

If this doesn’t convince our governing bodies that the current model doesn’t work, nothing will.

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