Rob Houwing

How to kill S15 as TV entity?

2013-08-30 09:21
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
More water, less whisky ... they really seem ever more determined to make Super Rugby as wishy-washy and convoluted a product as possible, don’t they?

I imagine a fair bit of the speculation around radical changes – again – to the format of the competition may be mere posturing and “politics” ahead of SANZAR talks next week to thrash out the mix for a new broadcasting deal from 2016.

But even so, the statement from Aussie boss Bill Pulver this week that an Australasian conference in a two-group format (with the other possibly featuring teams from South African and Argentina ahead of a finals series) could be a “good option” is unlikely to find mass approval from our influential neck of the woods.

Particularly from a South African perspective – paying public and TV audiences alike – it just seems unbelievably lopsided, impractical and lacking in credibility.

Personally I believe credibility is a crucial point of focus because even the still-fledgling three-conference system could be said to glaringly lack that.

Many good rugby people still battle to get their heads around a format where all teams don’t get to play each other annually any more, where the overall log can have, say, a team in third place overall which sports fewer points than the one in fourth, and with the daftly complicating bonus points for byes.

It’s all well and good, under the latest novel proposal being mooted, for the best sides to eventually lock horns in a playoffs phase, but at this point it is horribly hard to imagine South Africans being wooed in adequate numbers by an early-phase hook-up between SA teams (they would presumably have to make up the vast majority of the pool?) and a couple from Argentina.

The vital strength-versus-strength and appealingly “international” element would be too heavily located in the Australasian conference, whilst there would be rightful fears over the competitiveness (particularly on SA soil) of any outfits from the land of the Pumas.

Bear in mind that currently the cream of their crop are based with European sides ... would some sort of plan be put in place to somehow coax them back?

Another drawback, for Argentinean-staged games, is the time-zone factor: even afternoon games in that country mean kick-offs of around 21:00 our time, which is a little after the peak SuperSport telly gluttony of any traditional Saturday, isn’t it?

You might well find, too, that if Aussie and New Zealand teams collaborate for a conference, they will understandably (especially in the colder, wetter Land of the Long White Cloud) wish to restore more afternoon matches – so in NZ terms, that means any South Africans interested in watching games from there might have to revert to unfriendly 04:35 TV starts and the like.

On the whole, I fear such a post-2015 structural scenario would only give Super Rugby a phonier, more damaging look than it already sports in the conference-era, and just add to the restlessness of those of us who yearn for the halcyon (no frills, high quality) years of Super 12.

SuperSport are currently digesting new-model proposals for Super Rugby put forward by SARU: they walk a bit of a tightrope because I gather they do have some concerns about general “rugby fatigue” but at the same time the sport remains one of their most lucrative and they are always under pressure to deliver good (and ideally live) content across their expanding array of channels.

But as for myself, in assessing further tinkering to Super Rugby, the words of late, legendary US boxing scribe Bert Randolph Sugar come to mind: “If it’s in you want, maybe you should count me out” ...

Rob’s Awesome Foursome

1. Golden Lions v Western Province, Currie Cup rugby
Johannesburg, Friday 19:10, SS1, SHD, CSN 

Although the Saturday showpiece game (see below) in the domestic competition also holds appeal, I reckon this is potentially the game of the weekend. The Lions awoke in a big way last weekend with that spectacular raid on Loftus, so confidence will hardly be a problem when cup-holders Province get in their way at Ellis Park in this floodlit affair. It is a toughie to call, especially when you consider that the Lions won the league encounter 26-23 at the venue last year, but were then beaten 21-16 there in a semi-final follow-up. Lions by a whisker, maybe?
2. SuperSport United v Kaizer Chiefs, PSL soccer
Atteridgeville, Saturday 18:00, SS4, SHD4

Their rather obvious heyday in the Premiership was the period between 2007 and 2010, but are the good times about to roll again for SuperSport United? Of course it’s dangerously early to put your head on a block – Orlando Pirates, for instance, have only played one league game so far – but the Swanky Boys do boast a two-from-two start to the campaign. Certainly if they get the better of defending champions Chiefs at Lucas Moripe Stadium, any whispers of a concerted title challenge in 2013/14 are sure to get louder ...

3. Sharks v Blue Bulls, Currie Cup rugby
Durban, Saturday 17:05, M-Net, SS1, SHD

The Sharks are probably weighing up this Bulls trip to the “Tank” with a strange combination of optimism and trepidation. They may feel that the visitors are at sixes and sevens after their terrible pasting at the hands of the Lions last weekend – among other things, SuperSport pundit John Mitchell questioned the Bulls’ conditioning as they were run off their feet – but will also be wary of a likely backlash. Still, the Sharks squeezed out the corresponding clash at Kings Park 13-12 last season (and then the semis meeting 20-3 at the same venue), and must be considered favourites for another triumph.

4. Liverpool v Manchester United, English Premiership soccer
Liverpool, Sunday 14:30, SS3, SHD3, Maximo

Say what you like about Liverpool’s glory years fading ever more significantly in memory banks, this grudge match in England’s northwest still has a certain allure, doesn’t it? What ups the stakes quite pleasingly for this particular meeting is that ‘Pool have maximum points from two matches, so expect atmospheric Anfield to be in particularly strong voice. United, for their part, come off that disappointingly second-gear stalemate at home to Chelsea, so the champs have already dropped points and may just wish to show greater enterprise against this old enemy.

Read more on:    super 15  |  rob houwing  |  rugby

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