That SARU made an operating profit in what can only be described as a tricky economic environment – for the fourth successive year - is impressive, and CEO Jurie Roux deserves huge credit for making this happen. Especially when comparing it to the strife a few of the other federations have gone, or are going, through.
Now they need to sort out the mess that a few of the provincial unions have got themselves into through burning cash on player salaries that their meagre earnings just cannot service.
That said, though, SARU do have it a little easier than the unions in that they negotiate the TV and sponsorship rights to the golden goose that is Super Rugby, decide how much of it should go where, and pick up only the top up contracts of less than 20 players. Sure, they are the top players in the country, but without central contracting, it is the provincial unions who pick up the bulk of the player’s salaries.
That said, good on them for making the numbers work. It is an astutely managed federation. And they are incredibly transparent when it comes to how that central pot of money is divvied up, so unions know what is coming their way, and it is up to them to make their numbers work.
Of more concern to them, though, should be how quickly that golden goose is being cooked (to my mind it is already dry and a little tough), and how quickly the game is deteriorating as a spectacle between the white lines.
I do not enjoy being “Negative Knobby” in the corner always casting aspersions on the game, but when last did you really look forward to a game of rugby, so much so that you were keeping that diary clear no matter the invitations that come your way?
SANZAR have probably bought themselves some time in already negotiating five years of proper TV cash for this convoluted Super 18 that is coming our way next year, but unless they use it wisely to engage with the North so as to come up with a more interesting (and simple) tournament, and sort out the on-field fiascos, all I see are real elephant tears for the game!
The scrum is probably the biggest on-field fiasco right now, but I have bored you to beers on that subject in the last 2 columns, suffice to say that it is a problem area that needs solving. The breakdown is a complete lottery, the omnipresent driving maul from lineouts set up five metres from the tryline is basically legalised obstruction, and the latest fad that sees a player going for a ball in the air sent from the field because he was one centimetre lower than the other player going for the ball is fast becoming a proper point of friction.
The recent spate of suspensions due to foul play should be no surprise really. You can almost feel the levels of player frustration rising every weekend as referees are allowed to interpret the game differently. The fact that two sets of on field officials, and then two sets of Judicial teams, could not agree on what whether Frans Steyn’s tackle was an illegal tip tackle or not speaks to exactly that point. And that’s surely simple to spot when compared to the horror shows that are the scrums, mauls, rucks and in the air contests?
As such, teams and players are making like water polo and playing for the penalty, actually being coached how to milk them from that day’s referee based on videos of his previous games. Teams do not contest the breakdown so as to avoid not only the shrill blast of the whistle, but also the offside line. Teams opt out of the lineout so the opposition can’t milk the legalised obstruction loophole, yet still passes back to the flank and then forward to the lock are missed. It’s a bloody freak show!
It’s no wonder players are getting frustrated. It has long been said that rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen, and that soccer is a gentleman's game played by beasts. But overly complicated laws being governed by subjective interpretation is fast turning these gentlemen into beasts.
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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