Rob Houwing

S15: ‘Fixing’ a good engine

2010-05-05 08:40
Rob Houwing
Rob Houwing fears he is going to miss the Super 14 when it is gone …

Is it just me or has the latest Vodacom Super 14 season been a particularly pulsating one?

Perhaps I am jaundiced ever so slightly by the fact that, in the vibrant form of the Bulls and Stormers, South Africa’s challenge in 2010 has been an especially robust one thus far.

But I fancy I might get some meaningful Australasian support as well for my belief that the swansong season of Super 14 rugby has captured the imagination anew after concern that interest had been flagging in some areas – most notably in Aussie, especially, television viewership.

I do not know whether there has been any significant arrest in the TV decline in that country, although one would imagine that Queensland audiences have responded positively -- as have Suncorp Stadium gates, indisputably -- to the Reds’ fairly stirring revival after several years of labouring, bottom-three status.

Taking television factors aside, though – and I am certainly not under-estimating their importance to the overall landscape – this has been a markedly better Super 14 from a rugby point of view than last year’s, don’t you think?

Teams have made their peace to a large degree with various law tweaks and trials, with far less in the way of aimless kicking than in 2009, a greater tempo and purpose to play, some closer contests … and of course a few truly vintage tries.

Only this week – and a humungous tight forward would certainly know – Bakkies Botha observed that he needed to get back match-sharp as quickly as possible because of the noticeably speedier demands of the 2010 campaign. And that can’t be bad, can it?

Perhaps the best gauge of a “competitive” environment, in the truest sense of the word, is that as many as seven teams remain in the semi-finals hunt with two rounds to play.

It is an event brewing ever more deliciously to a grand climax, as all good sports tournaments should, where the team leading by five points (the Bulls) isn’t even absolutely assured of a last-four spot yet -- never mind the right to a home run-in come knockout time.

And the beauty of it remains that there is one, easy-to-navigate league table which spells out, quickly and clearly, pretty much all you need to know about the various, spicy permutations in the final straight.

Yes, as far as I’m concerned it’s all singing, all dancing for the Super 14. Its engine, fresh from a generally successful service in law-book respects, can be said to be purring.

So it seems an almighty shame, somehow, that a ruddy great spanner is arguably about to be thrown into the works: a complete revamp and profound expansion of the event.

That outward stretch of the concertina comprises not only the addition of an extra team to alter the title to Super 15, of course, but also a wholesale dismantling of the single ladder, to push teams into three regional pools (sorry, “conferences”) that will be visited and revisited in various ways as the pretty complex new spider’s web thickens.

I am a confessed mathematical numbskull, it is true, but I have perused the altered format several times and still can’t be fully confident I have mastered it. (Give it a chance, and watch how it fits into place, I guess its proponents will implore.)

But the thing that really concerns me is the unholy mushrooming of the itinerary to August, and the possibility that teams reaching the final will have played as many as 19 matches.

Top players are starting to fall like flies through injury – ask the Reds and Sharks! – even as the existing, 11-round-old Super 14 continues its merry, though physically taxing course. Imagine the potential size of the “hospital ward”, then, come the late stages of the new-look Super 15.

Of course there is a break earmarked during the Super 15, but that is really only to accommodate some mid-year Tests, so the blue-chip franchise players won’t be putting their feet up: merely changing jerseys.

And the risk of resumption after a break, of course, is that some people might by then be comparing the tournament to the hot roll that tastes so wonderful straight out of the oven … it’s not quite so appetising after an overnight stint in the bread-container.

Oh yes, and if you aren’t heartily sick of expanded southern hemisphere action by then, the Tri-Nations – possibly to include Argentina, which could be an apt development – will kick in almost immediately after Super 15.

You have to wonder whether all these moves are for the genuine good of the game, or ultimately just another opportunity to try to squeeze more eggs cynically from a golden goose.

I do hope it is the former.

Because strange as it may sound, I can’t help feeling whether the perfect “Super” scenario is, in fact, a return to Super 12, with four particularly strong franchises from each of the three countries.

Quality, not quantity. And just a little plainer and simpler?

Rob is Sport24's Chief Writer

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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