Super Rugby Not So Super Anymore

super rugby new format failNow that the Super Rugby group stages are drawing to a close, it is probably a good time to look back and see whether the monstrous 18-team tournament has been a success or not? There has been an evolutionary path for this competition, from its humble beginnings as Super 10, but evolution is not always for the greater good, especially when the changes are mostly money related.

It is fair to say that this year’s edition of Super Rugby is by far one of the most complicated tournaments around. Conferences and groups are lined up with wildcards and obscure travel destinations. It is hard enough for fans to keep track of how their team is doing, but can you imagine trying to navigate this quagmire as a coach or player?

Complicated Super Rugby Tournament – Turning Into A Snooze Fest

The idea of two conferences – Africa and Australasia – with two groups within each, with teams that are neither from Africa or Australasia, and which have different numbers between them are actually the wonky foundation of it all.

Five Australian teams are split with five New Zealand teams, which sounds simple enough for a 10-team conference, but then three South African teams join either a Japanese team or an Argentinian one in two conferences of four each.

Then, one South African conference plays one Australasian group while the other two play each other. So, from this, beyond it being complicated it starts to become unfair. Africa Two has been paired up with the New Zealand conference and any rugby simpleton can tell you, that is the harder way to go about things.

Unfair Draws & Easy 5-Pointers.

How this aspect has played out has been quite interesting, the Sharks and Lions have had to scrap incredibly hard to try and stay afloat against the Kiwi teams, and in the end, especially the Lions, under Johan Ackermann, have done very well indeed. But teams like the Kings and Jaguares have mostly been cannon fodder for the Kiwis, feeding them five-pointers left and right.

In the Australasian conference, there have been no real stand-outs, the Brumbies flattered to deceive while the Waratahs have been more up and down than a rollercoaster. The Reds and Force have been mostly free points for who ever comes across them, and it is only the Rebels ironically who have put up the most consistent fight.

Next year, there will be a change over as Africa Two get to take on the Australians, but in this competition, we have seen teams turn things around in a season. The Reds and Highlanders were once the worst teams in Australia and New Zealand respectively, now they each have a trophy to their name. What if there is an Australian resurgence next year and all of a sudden the teams from Africa Two are up against it again? It is not a fair system.

Super Rugby Playoffs – Is Anyone Still Watching?

The play-offs are up next, and this is where it becomes even more unfair. As if to confirm the Kiwi dominance, the three wild card spots available are all with New Zealand teams at the moment. That means, from Australasia, there will be one Australian team representing in the play-offs, and four out of five Kiwi teams.

For the South Africans contingent, there will be three representatives, with two of them having home quarter-finals. Clearly the Australians are at a deficit here, and while it is true that the Kiwis deserve to dominate the play-offs spots, it does not mean it should come at the expense of Australian representation.

The market of Super Rugby has been steadily declining, with TV audiences dwindling, and stadium attendance embarrassingly low. The decisions made to try and fix this was not to hone the tournament and make it more simplistic and streamlined, but to bloat it and try and grab new markets.

The inclusion of the Sunwolves and the Jaguares means that SANZAR Rugby have two brand new markets to tap into in an attempt to keep this all afloat. However, it is quite clear these decisions came at the expense of the overall tournament competitiveness and quality. 

The Sunwolves were incredibly under-prepared for Super Rugby, only selecting their squad in final a week before the tournament kicked off. The Jaguares looked better prepared, but they have not been a success at all with their gameplay seriously undercooked.

The inclusion of the Southern Kings is even more embarrassing and evidence of a plan without much thought. A union approaching insolvency needed a bailout from SARU simply to be a part of this tournament and with the talent pool in South Africa already stretched thin, there was never going to be enough quality to penetrate Port Elizabeth, nor ate there any supporters.  The average attendance figure throughout the 2016 Super Rugby Tournament at The Southern Kings home-ground, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, was only 15%

Conclusion – Super Rugby On A Downward Spiral

Unfortunately, it seems, the greed for money and the importance of business has outweighed the value of the game. Rugby grew exponentially as a sport a while back because the game on show was pure and the tournaments designed to showcase it. Super Rugby is no longer that tournament, it is a bloated mess that’s only reason for existence is to exhume money from any means

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