Pro14 or Super Rugby?

Ami Kapilevich

Long-suffering Cheetahs fans (like myself) are used to their players being poached over the years. The Sharks famously snapped up Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, and I remember when Gurthro Steenkamp went bye-bye to the Bulls.

The trend has continued to grow – think Adriaan Strauss and Lood de Jager, and now Paul Schoeman (no one will love you at Loftus as much as we did, Tier!) – but after just one season in the Pro14, the exodus has been particularly biblical.

Eleven players (and the coach) have left – about half to Japan and half to Europe. No one can blame them. It’s a professional choice, not an emotional one. But two things are interesting.

The first is that playing in the Pro14 seems to have sent the talent scouts into much more of a frenzy than Super Rugby. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the Cheetahs have done better in then Pro14 than Super Rugby, but still.

The second is that the players that chose to go to Japan have made a bad decision. And that’s a first.

For so long now, the Cheetahs talent filing through International Departures at OR Tambo felt like they were being beamed up to greater things; finally, a good turn in their careers. Those who stuck around had to scramble to pack their bags for the Pro14 after a hurried process to include the Free State team in the 2017/18 season.

With a record of only once reaching the playoffs in 12 seasons of Super Rugby (during which time they finished 11 campaigns placed 10th or worse), the Cheetahs sprinted into the Pro14 quarter-finals in their debut season. The team’s immediate success makes those Cheetahs players who opted for the move north seem much wiser than those who went east. And I say that with great respect to the Japanese league.

The Pro14 is a tournament on the up and the inclusion of the Cheetahs and Kings has, generally, been well received by the fans and administrators.

If you log onto the Pro14 website, there’s a splash screen that throws a few statistics your way. Crowd attendance is up by 10%, a record number of tries (861) were scored, and the comp featured more international players than ever before – easily explained by the addition of two extra ‘international’ teams in the Cheetahs and Kings.

But there are two stats that are noteworthy. The first is that the tournament has the “fastest rucks in club rugby”, with 81% being under 3 seconds. And the other is that the 2017/18 Pro14 final had a record attendance of 46,092.

Perhaps the most telling fact, however, is that the tournament is set to expand even further to 16 teams. Too much? Is this a similar deadly expansion that led to the demise of Super Rugby? I don’t know.

But one thing is for sure: when the Cheetahs first joined the tournament, SA fans sneered that they would rather have their team play in a waning Super Rugby tournament than some low-tier competition in Europe. I wonder how many fans today would object to the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers joining the Pro14, especially with the inevitable chance to play in the European Champions Cup?

Yup, thought so.

- Ami Kapilevich

Let's chat

  • Nick

    You make a persuasive argument here ami.
    What super rugby desperately lacks imo is travelling support of fans. Distances are far too great and expensive for the average fan to follow their team to the other side of the world. The lions bulls game at Ellis park had a bigger crowd than the jaguares/lions quaternary final (a ‘bigger’ game) which illustrates the impractical nature of super rugby from a comercial view. Sa fans would still be somewhat ‘out of town’, but nothing like as far as they are from the antibodes. General tourism between Europe and sa dwarfs the contact we have with nz/aus anyway.

    The make up of European club crowds is totally different due to travelling support. This extends to the 6 nations.

    I don’t even know if it suits the british/European clubs to have us, but I hope it does. I say can SANZAR and murdochs money and go north if we can. Imo we play nz/aus too many times, and what was an event when we played them is just not that interesting anymore. So many games are supported by tiny miserable crowds in dank and bland stadiums anyway.

    Nice one cheetahs! For them to be ‘demoted’ from the so called ‘top’ flight was scandalous anyway.

    • Ami

      Thanks Nick – I know for a fact my brother-in-law will definitely be going to watch more rugby in Scotland, where he is based nowadays!

    • John Comyn

      Sorry I duplicated my message to Ami in error (technically challenged). What I wanted to say is, apparently the NH Pro14 sides that have been here to play enjoy it immensely. It’s not that much of a schelp and they are treated like Gods. There is also a large contingent of Saffers amongst them to do the tour guide thing. It’s a win win for all involved.

      • Ami

        All the feedback I’ve rad has been overwhelmingly positive.

    • John Comyn

      Ami – most people in Bloem believe that when they die they will go to Pretoria:-) Super Rugby is dead & buried. It is no more! I would love to see my side (The Stormers) play Pro14. What is really cool is it will be easier to poach Cheetahs players. On the international front we still need to test ourselves against the best. I like a 3 match series idea. Perhaps we can play the AB’s and Wallabies bi-annually.

  • John Comyn

    Ami – most people in Bloem believe that when they die they will go to Pretoria:-) Super Rugby is dead & buried. It is no more! I would love to see my side (The Stormers) play Pro14. What is really cool is it will be easier to poach Cheetahs players. On the international front we still need to test ourselves against the best. I like a 3 match series idea. Perhaps we can play the AB’s and Wallabies bi-annually.

  • Barry Smith

    The fact is that Super rugby has become so manipulated by New Zealand and to a lesser extent Australia, that SA fans have lost interest.
    The travel is so heavily organised in favour of NZ sides that frankly our sides have to be absolutely outstanding to have a slight chance of success!
    The Sharks and Lions both had Five straight weeks on the road in Australasia and then returned home without a break to face Bulls & Stormers and Brumbies and Stormers respectively.
    Compare this to the Crusaders for example who had two international games in a row and then returned home for a bye!!! Sound fair to you???
    The competition is not structured for SA sides to have success and the sooner we establish ourselves elsewhere the better!

    • Ami

      Fair comment, Barry!

  • Nick

    Aus and nz will also lose BIG if we walk away. SA fan base pays by far most of the TV prescriptions, even the aus and nz pay tv numbers are inflated by SA expats. Our crowds are bigger too, despitems the obvious drop in recent years locally. Super rugby has sucked the life out of our rugby and have gone so far as to convince us that we are only worth 4 teams to accommodate ‘Charf Charf ‘ teams like the sunwolves.

    One thing we have a gift for in SA is undervaluing and mismanaged ourselves.

    We’re being screwed and are being told to enjoy it by murdochs tv machine who don’t give a crap about rugby. We can thank lousy lunt and his fellow goons for selling our whole game down the river when we went pro in 1995.

  • Ami

    I’d like to add one more point to the article above: if you think that Pro14/12 is a ‘lesser’ tournament to the English and French ones, consider that last year’s Heineken Cup was won by a Pro14 team, and that 5 of the 8 playoff spots were taken by Pro14 teams. *drops mic*

  • Stephen

    One thing about the Pro event is that if there are international games the league continues. So Cheetahs have faced depleted teams and this worked in their favor. The other is that it seems they play 2 overseas games then return making travel easier unlike SR rugby. They also have the Kings games which also boosted their points.

    My suggestion would be for SARU and the regions to look at ways of bolstering the Cheetahs and Kings squads by allowing them to use the other regions players who are reserve for the reserves. This can be done on a basis where the Cheetahs can use a contracted Stormer who’s not getting game time for a period eg as in this season where Cheetahs ran out of fly halves . Barry also got a good run and was pretty regular in the Stormers squad. Cheetahs pays the players monthly salary and benefits while playing for them. In the SR season the reverse can happen.

    Biggest benefit for me is that I can support my team the Cheetahs and support the team where I live Stormers and not kill myself in Superbru because they no longer play against each other

    • Barry Smith

      Sharks did not feature 38% of their squad!! An outrage but a debate for another time. Point is there’s load of class plays sitting in the background that could be better utilized, so your suggestion is workable!

  • Christo

    Well done Cheetahs management. Screwed over by our own rugby fraternity for many years. Watch them becoming our best team in SA. You only have to look at the improvement in FAF, Willie and Diane to see the future is North not South. The Pacific Islanders All Blacks has called the shots over our stupid administrators for too long. They have a bloated self importance problem. And we just pander up to them….

  • Dean

    I agree, the inclusion of the Cheetahs and Kings was refreshing for rugby on the whole. We are tired of seeing the same teams compete against each other, year after year. Super Rugby killed off the once proud Currie Cup. Who needs to watch the Currie Cup when Super Rugby has so many derby games. I barely get excited for the Rugby Championship anymore, it’s so one-sided. The exposure our players have received with European teams seems to have done wonders for their game ie. Duane, Willie, Flo, Kolbe etc. I would be interested to know if playing in Europe would boost our rugby economically and would it offset some of the problems we face with the weakness of the Rand. If this will boost rugby franchises in SA then it is a no-brainer. The travel suits us better, the exposure our players will receive and hopefully we can keep our best players together at our franchises in the long run.

    Sanzaar are wanting to expand to the Americas and Pacific Islands. The Pro Rugby league in the US was a disaster and became defunct after 2 years due to a lack of support and funds. The unions of the Pacific Islands nations have been embroiled in scandals of unpaid players etc. In Canada, rugby is still very much an amateur sport, it can be barely stand up to club rugby in SA. Why on earth would Sanzaar see this as the way to go?

    It’s time for SA rugby to do what’s best for our rugby. If Europe is that then so be it. Playing Australia and NZ on 3 Test match tours would become a massive money maker. We could even have extended tours then seeing our franchises play warm up games against the likes of OZ and NZ and vice versa. It would be very exciting. Right now, you know every year, except by luck or some miracle a NZ team will win Super Rugby and then the RC. I’d be way more excited to see the Boks playing against Ireland to win the Six Nations and the Lions playing a final against Toulon for the Champions Cup.

    • Herman Schroder?

      A good read Dean, well done. I’m also tired of those clowns on The Breakdown’ as well as the Stuff NZ forum with their totally blinkered approach to anything non NZ. When the Blitzbokke won the Sevens Series for the second time this year it had barely a mention but when they won the WC recently it seemed as if the heavens had opened for them. They finished world champs for four years after only four matches yet finished a miserable third these past few years in the World Series. During the Series they hardly discussed the tournament at all. While discussing last weekends quarter finals they went on and on about the first three games and ended up by saying ‘and of course there was the other QF between the Lions and Jaguares’ and not another word, go figure.

      I’m also losing my gees for SR and RC if truth be told. The NH appears a much more attractive proposition for SA rugby though it will be difficult to cart another four Franchises over there in one fell swoop. Seasonal logistics also a bit of a problem but hey nothing ventured nothing gained. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    A good read Dean, well done. I’m also tired of those clowns on The Breakdown’ as well as the Stuff NZ forum with their totally blinkered approach to anything non NZ. When the Blitzbokke won the Sevens Series for the second time this year it had barely a mention but when they won the WC recently it seemed as if the heavens had opened for them. They finished world champs for four years after only four matches yet finished a miserable third these past few years in the World Series. During the Series they hardly discussed the tournament at all. While discussing last weekends quarter finals they went on and on about the first three games and ended up by saying ‘and of course there was the other QF between the Lions and Jaguares’ and not another word, go figure.

    I’m also losing my gees for SR and RC if truth be told. The NH appears a much more attractive proposition for SA rugby though it will be difficult to cart another four Franchises over there in one fell swoop. Seasonal logistics also a bit of a problem but hey nothing ventured nothing gained. Cheers.

  • Tim Jones

    I think that the above comments say it all. It makes so much sense to interact with the north countries especially from a financial,point of view. Let alone TV viewership( same time frame), easier traveling,fan support and player fatigue. It could also serve to humanize theNew Zealanders!

  • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

    Nice one Dean

    Reading NZ Stuff regularly and the kiwis concern of S.A teams pulling out of SR and going to the NH, clearly they measure their performances against S.A teams much more than that of Aussie teams, they feel that super rugby would die once S.A pulls out of SR. There’s also the concern that if we play in the NH our level of intensity would not match the All Blacks come Rugby championship time, this would not be the case i reckon, look at Ireland & Scotland, they are beating the Aussies on a regular basis and Ireland would push the All Blacks all the way. The quality of Rugby in the NH is on the up and has been for the last couple of years. Would love to see the Springboks being part of the 6 nations, a breath of fresh air for sure!

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