Coaching legend disappointed with NZ Super Rugby dominance
Wellington - New Zealand's domination of Super Rugby was branded "disappointing" by former World Cup winning coach Graham Henry who said Sunday that expanding the competition had diluted the quality.
However, other prominent New Zealand rugby figures argued the southern hemisphere championship would improve with time and New Zealand had to remain involved.
"New Zealand sides are a cut above the others, which is disappointing really because you need the other sides strong to have a good competition and increase the interest," Henry told Radio Sport.
The competition's controlling body SANZAAR, representing South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina rugby, this year expanded the competition to 18 teams split into four conferences.
However, Henry, the 2011 All Blacks World Cup winning coach who also coached the Auckland Blues to two Super titles, said there was not the depth to support all the franchises.
"The policy of SANZAAR is to have a global game and they've got the game in Japan and they've got the game in Argentina, some of the games are in Singapore, so they they've fulfilled that objective but in doing that the quality has decreased," he said.
With five rounds remaining before this year's play-offs, New Zealand teams fill the top four places with the Canterbury Crusaders, Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders on 37 points, one ahead of the Wellington Hurricanes on 36.
But under SANZAAR rules the conference leaders must fill the top four seeds in the play-offs which will elevate South Africa's Golden Lions (32 points), and the Stormers (31), followed by Australia's NSW Waratahs (30) into the second, third and fourth places.
New Zealand Rugby general manager Neil Sorensen said there had previously been talk of New Zealand and Australia forming their own trans-Tasman competition but that was shouted down by the All Blacks selectors.
South African 'education'
They said "there's no way that we want our young men not playing South African teams in South Africa as part of their education," Sorensen said.
"We don't want our guys facing South Africa in a quarter-final of a Rugby World Cup with a bunch of kids that have never played in Johannesburg, never been spat on by South Africans in Pretoria and so forth.
"So from a high performance perspective it's really important that we do play the Africans and the Africans are still tough at home."
Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree, who was previously head coach of the Coastal Sharks in South Africa, said the current set up made it important to win the New Zealand conference.
Anything less would mean being relegated to playing away from home in the quarter-finals.
"You don't want to be left having to travel to South Africa for a quarter-final and then back possibly to Australia or New Zealand for a semi and then off again somewhere," he said.
But Plumtree said the competition could not be run any other way and in time, standards would improve across the board.
"The people in South Africa and the people in Australia want to see big games, finals games in those countries, in a competition like this, so I can't see that changing," he said.
"There's no way there's going to be two or three quarter-finals in New Zealand and a couple of semis. It won't happen. There's more to it than that. You have to be patient."