As always, interesting times in South
African rugby. The three SANZAR countries meet in London next week to discuss
the future of Super Rugby, super-ref Jonathan Kaplan to blow his last ever Test
on Saturday, and coach Heyneke Meyer to name a Bok side to play Scotland
consisting of Bakkies Botha and a few fringe players later today...
Following South Africa's rejection of a 2 conference
Super Rugby system proposed by the Aussies and Kiwis that would have seen 6
South African teams play in one conference, and the 10 Australasian sides mix
it up with Argentina and Asian in the other, SARU president Oregan Hoskins
wants to see a no-pool 17-team tournament that includes an Argentine team and
sees each team play each other.
He proposes that the Lions and an Argentine
team be added to the 15 teams that played this year, and that they play against
each other once, thus doing away with the double round of local derbies.
Look, give me back the Super 12, with the
Currie Cup deciding which 4 teams represent South Africa any day. But sadly, I
think that ship has sailed, and if we can’t have that, then the Hoskins plan
seems to make sense. I am just not sure why he has taken so long to grasp the
concept, and why SARU bowed to the current, badly flawed, structure in the
This proposal heeds the concerns of players,
who feel that they have to play too many high-intensity matches in a season, goes
back to every team playing against each other, another thing the players (and
spectators) want, and takes away that dastardly contrived log which currently ensures
that a team from each country makes the overly complex finals series.
So it would mean a definite 16 games for
each team, 17 for the 4 semi-finalists, and 18 for the finalists. Starts in
February, done and dusted by the June Internationals.
It is still a little bloated, and does not really address the travel issue, but it would make
it a little more equitable given that the Antipodeans would need to be in South
Africa for a guaranteed 3 weeks. But by staffing 6 teams instead of 5, all
South Africa would be doing is diluting the pool of player talent in the
country, making the games against the SA franchises less tough. But that is the
political bed we have made, and we must now lie in it …
And while I agree with Hoskins’ sentiment
that spectator interest in the double round of local derbies in the conferences
is on the decline, I am afraid that the numbers do not back him up, amazingly. All
crowd attendances are down, and I think people are happy to leave the derbies
for the Currie Cup, but Repucom’s TV numbers still show that there is much more
interest in the Super Rugby derbies than the inter-country matches.
But I still say leave those for the Currie
Cup. Super Rugby is about playing the Aussies and Kiwis, and a fundamental
reason why the three Southern hemisphere sides continually dominate positions
1, 2 and 3 on the IRB rankings.
Other viable options include 1) Adding even
more teams and setting it up in 5 pools like the Heineken Cup, 2) Dividing the
tournament into 2 tiers based on the previous year’s results, and 3) Allowing
the 3 countries as many teams as they want in their 3 pools of qualifying,
which then deliver 3 teams each to play in a Super 9 that would see all teams
play against each other.
All have their merits, and all of them
speak to the one truth – we simply cannot continue with what we have now. It is
bloated, contrived, boring and killing our players.
And in closing … I find it terribly sad,
and a tad bloody scandalous to be honest, that the world's most capped Test referee,
Jonathan Kaplan, will be handling his 70th - and likely last - Test in Windhoek
between Namibia and Kenya this weekend. What a truly crappy way for the IRB to
say “Thank you” to a great South African who has served the game so well.
Conversely, well done to SARU for giving him the local send-off he deserved in
the Currie Cup final.
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop and editor of the recently launched free monthly digital rugby magazine called SCRUM
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