Vodacom Super 14

Carlos laments poor crowds

2010-03-10 10:39
Carlos Spencer (File)
Sydney - After 14 years of top-flight rugby, he knows what lifts the players, writes RugbyHeaven columnist, Rupert Guinness.

The memory is as vivid today as it was 14 years ago, when ''King'' Carlos Spencer was at the height of his powers as one of the world's leading flyhalves. It is the memory of rugby stadiums throughout the southern hemisphere packed to the rafters with frenzied crowds baying for the opposing players' blood.

Today, aged 34 and four rounds into his return to Super Rugby after five years playing in England, Spencer laments the drop in crowds and the lack of ''atmosphere'' and ''buzz''.

He is grateful for the opportunity offered to him by the Lions after stints with Gloucester and Northampton - a two-year deal that will incorporate him coaching their Golden Lions in the Currie Cup - but he remains perplexed by Super Rugby's failure to attract the healthy crowds it once did.

''One thing I have noticed is that (southern hemisphere) crowds are definitely not as big as they used to be five, six or seven years ago,'' Spencer told the Herald.

He began his Super Rugby career in 1996 with the Blues.

''When I left New Zealand we used to get 20 000-30 000 every (home) game. Now you struggle to get 10 000. Are we playing too many games and people getting bored of rugby? It is a question that we have to find out (an answer to) and fix. I suppose you have to ask the fans.

''We would pack out Eden Park every home game. Then I used to watch it on TV in the UK. I saw so many seats and thought: 'What's happening?'''

Spencer, who has 99 Super caps to his name after earning three with the Lions this year to add to his impressive tally with the Blues, says most players ''thrive'' off playing before a full house.

''That's what we play for - to run out through the tunnel and hear a full stadium,'' he says. ''It was even better when we went to South Africa. Those stadiums are right on top of you. Mate, there is nothing better than playing rugby in front of 40 000-50 000 South Africans cheering for your blood.''

The likelihood is that Spencer won't get to celebrate his 100th Super game before such a crowd against the Waratahs at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night. The Waratahs, 10th on the ladder, attracted just 20 651 to the 44 000-capacity SFS for their first home game of the season against the Sharks last Saturday. After being booed despite their win, the Waratahs will be pressed to match that number against the 13th-placed Lions - even though their captain, Phil Waugh, will surpass Chris Whitaker as the most capped Waratah by playing his 119th game.

But Spencer won't let that deflate him. He agrees that the Waratahs' 25-21 win against the Sharks ''wasn't a great spectacle'', but feels they were ''unlucky'' to lose against the defending champion Bulls the previous week. ''They will be a different side. I am sure they will have freshened up for Friday night. I think they will be a different team to what we saw against the Sharks.''

A subplot to Friday's game for Spencer is the grand plan to develop the Lions into a strong Super and Currie Cup side in his role as both player and coach.

''I wanted to come out and help a team that had struggled. I thought I could help the team achieve its goals over the next couple of years,'' Spencer says. ''I knew (coach) Dick Muir was there and had heard great things about him and thought it would be great to work with Dick for a couple of years.''

Spencer has had no trouble settling in to South Africa where he, his wife Jodene and children - five-year-old Payton and three-year-old Asha - live in the suburb of Sandton.

''I enjoy the lifestyle, the weather, the food, the people,'' he says.

''Every time I have toured there I have come back saying I love the place.''

What about the biltong? Does Spencer really eat it? ''I do. I love it,'' he says. ''Biltong's nice … good for ya! Very high in protein.''


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