Let's not beat around the bush: Super Rugby is dead.
Deader than dead. Morsdood if you prefer the delightful Afrikaans translation. No amount of resuscitation will ever revive it, no matter what organisers and broadcasters will have you believe.
The basis for proof of life in any tournament in any sport is spectator involvement at stadiums and/or on their couches in front of the telly.
Fans through turnstiles keep tournaments going. The day they stop attending or flick channels to Comedy Central is the day that tournament flatlines.
Saturday, April 21 in Durban was the day Super Rugby was read its final rites.
Once the biggest clash on the rugby calendar, the Sharks v Stormers showdown failed to register a blip on the radar.
So much so that Kings Park officials didn't even bother selling tickets to the top tier of the stadium, instead opting for shameless gigantic advertising banners. And the vast majority of the actual seats that were on sale, were empty.
On a side, yet related note, kudos has to go to whoever it was at Kings Park who managed to pull off the scoop of the century (maybe longer) in convincing new stadium sponsors Jonsson Workwear that it was in fact a good idea to part with no doubt millions and millions in cash to replace Growthpoint.
Word of warning to the folk at Jonsson's ... Kings Park will forever be Kings Park - or the Shark Tank - and shall never, ever be known as Jonsson Kings Park.
Not that many will turn up at Kings Park to ever see the new branding...
A couple of hours earlier in the day, and Loftus Versfeld was a morgue with only a handful of fans (literally) who bothered to show up for their clash against the Rebels.
This despite the once proud Bullring faithful regularly cramming into the stadium. And the Bulls are now on a three-match win streak!
Newlands, once easily the country's most supported stadium, has seen attendance figures plummet in 2018. Their tournament opener against the Jaguares attracted a little over 18 000 die-hards and in a vain attempt to attract fans, the Cape side have moved kick-off for Friday's public holiday clash against the Rebels to 15:05 (from 19:15) in an attempt to entice fans and family mid-afternoon.
Good luck with that!
Fans want to watch winning rugby. The Stormers are playing dire rugby at present. It's an equation that doesn't bode well for the WPRU. On current form the Rebels pose a real threat to Rob Fleck's charges and it would be no shock should they walk away victorious.
And Ellis Park, despite the Lions playing winning rugby in recent years, will sadly never escape the "it's too dangerous to attend" excuse.
Official attendance figures at stadiums are nigh-impossible to find, mainly as they are an embarrassment to unions and are guarded under lock and key.
But know this for sure, if you ever hear a figure announced as the 'official attendance' for a match, take that with a pinch of salt, halve it, don't bother to carry the last digit - and then feel sorry for those tasked with putting bums on seats.
So why are attendances down at South African stadiums?
Too many reasons to mention each and every one, but my top 5 are (in no particular order):
1. Super 18 wasn't actually the problem
The format for the 2016 and 2017 Super Rugby (with 18 teams) was widely lambasted as being too complicated to understand and grossly unfair on certain sides. Fans and teams called for change. SANZAAR stepped up and culled the Kings, Cheetahs and Force and CEO Andy Marinos promised everyone who cared to listen an improved product.
Fast forward to this year and still no one cares (see lack of bums on seats).
We've just found new problems with the 'old' Super Rugby format to gripe about.
2. No one cares about derby matches!
For far too long organisers have believed derby matches were what the paying public wanted to see.
Note to organisers: Unless that derby match involves two New Zealand sides, no fan gives the proverbial sh*t!
SA's Super Rugby sides currently play each other home and away ... in a slightly different guise they play each other again in the Currie Cup. Then if that's not enough, they play each other again in the Currie Cup playoffs.
It's all too much! And too much of the 'same, same' look and feel to maintain interest. More is seldom better. Quality over quantity.
3. Laws are rubbish, referees even worse
I'm tempted to suggest the World Rugby law book is ripped up and referees just do their own thing on the day for the 'surprise' element. Isn't that actually what happens in any case ... !?
Rugby's laws are factually the worst of any sport. They are simply too confusing. Andre Watson once told me a referee could blow up every scrum for 17 different reasons (no exaggeration, may even have been more, it was a while ago since we last saw Watson in action...) There's no consensus on what constitutes something as basic as a forward pass. And don't get me started on the rolling maul or the lottery of taking an opponent out in the air.
Fans are naturally frustrated weekend after weekend by calls made against their team. Frustration leads to those fans simply 'giving up'. Enough's enough. For the sake of one's own health, that's perfectly understandable. Why dice with blood pressure death every 7 days?
Fans 'giving up' leads to empty seats. Or the Discovery channel.
4. No stronger without 'weakest 3'
By culling three teams in the off-season, SANZAAR would have you believe we're now left with the 15 strongest sides. A 'strength v strength' scenario if you will.
The standard of play by the Australian sides is diabolical, the Blues are the red-haired step-child in New Zealand that no one wants to talk about, the Sunwolves are 'better' but only because they're now loaded with SA and NZ expats and a Georgian hooker, the Jaguares continue to blow hot and cold, and from a SA point of view, no side actually improved as the Cheetahs and Kings (ok, not the Kings) weren't divvied up among the four remaining sides to make any of them any stronger!
5. Money talks ... but also drives away fans
Rugby is a family sport. Dads and sons, moms and daughters, it's a fun afternoon out.
Except when you return home bankrupt.
Tickets plus transport plus food plus drinks X your family size X 8 home Super Rugby matches and it's become impossible for the average man in the street to attend.
And then Newlands' hierarchy confirm it will cost you as much as R950 for a single ticket to watch Rassie's Springboks against Eddie's England in June.
As mentioned, there are many, many more reasons for Super Rugby's demise. If you're still reading, drop us a line at email@example.com with your 'Top 3 reasons Super Rugby is dead' and we'll hit the publish button.
Perhaps if you have a defibulator for Super Rugby's future, let SANZAAR know!
In all seriousness, stats don't lie. Despite the same output, I can confirm that readers of Sport24 aren't as interested in Super Rugby this season as previous years. Everything from the Proteas v Australia ball-tampering scandal, the Commonwealth Games, the English Premier League, the Absa Premiership and the Masters - plus many more - have proved more popular.
80 minutes is up.
Garrin Lambley is a very frustrated rugby fan and Editor of Sport24 for his sins...
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