SA must fix Super Rugby, or leave – Jake

Jake White

Don’t let a good Super Rugby final blind you to the fact that the competition is still flawed.

The 2018 season has come and gone and the Crusaders have clinched their ninth title. They’ve been in 13 of the 23 finals. It’s a phenomenal record in any sport for one team to consistently reach the final and it says a lot about the Crusaders as an organisation.

Now it’s time for some retrospection and, even though Super Rugby administrators will be cock-a-hoop after a successful final, the reality of their product is very different.

Sanzaar will be pleased that there was a full house at the AMI Stadium, and the final included a South African team which meant that the competition’s largest TV audience was tuned in. The administrators would also have been relieved it wasn’t a one-sided affair – I’m sure Sanzaar was right next to Lions fans shouting for the away team because they didn’t want a 50-point blowout.

But, as brave as the Lions were in trying to achieve a miracle, it was Mission: Impossible. That side was never going to beat a New Zealand team in New Zealand. And, if we’re honest, it was probably an unfair final because it should have featured two Kiwi sides. There’s no way the two best teams played for the trophy.

From a marketing and audience point of view, Sanzaar will feel like the final ticked all the right boxes. From a rugby point of view, it can’t be right. The Chiefs and Canes – who won more matches and logged more points than the Lions, despite playing in the same conference as the Crusaders and Highlanders, must feel aggrieved that they didn’t get a fair crack at the title.

Around the world, people follow sport because they want to be there for that moment when there’s a big upset. Pundits like to talk about great upsets and great comebacks, and that gets lost in a predictable Super Rugby competition. The competition is like a train that runs on schedule – the results go according to homeground advantage, the conference you play in and the travel factor.

All four of the quarter-finals were won by the home team, and what’s worse is the teams that came second and third (on log points) had to travel in the playoffs to face sides that finished lower on the standings.

As much as it was a spectacle, and Sanzaar made money and got profile, the one key element that’s missing is that the competition was flawed from the day it kicked off.

The Lions tried to play it down, but losing the final was inevitable. Just like it was inevitable that the Lions would beat the Waratahs at Ellis Park. Almost 70 percent of Super Rugby matches are won by the home team, and that number would be higher if you excluded the weaker teams that account for more of the home losses.

In some ways, Sanzaar got it right. The Crusaders would have won regardless of the format; they were deserved champions. And the SA audience wouldn’t have watched the final if it had featured the Hurricanes in Christchurch.

So if you look at it from a marketing point of view, it’s close to a 10 out of 10. But you can’t have a competition where the team that ends fourth was in the final because the format gave them an automatic home playoff. I’m sure Sanzaar breathed a sigh of relief after a contestable final because if that had been a 50-pointer people would have said the Lions should never have been there in the first palce. But that doesn’t plaster the cracks in the competition.

Rugby is moving north and South Africa has to decide whether Super Rugby is something we want to leave or something we want to change.

Either way, some big calls have to be made.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Johan

    I have always disagreed with the sentiment that the other NZ sides “didn’t get a fair crack at the title”. They had their chance, in NZ against the eventual champions. They had a point, last year, when the Lions didn’t play any NZ sides, but this year they all had their chances.

    The biggest problem with Super Rugby is the travel:
    “since 2001, for example, they’ve (SA sides) only scored 15 points in showpiece matches played in Australasia” – the Citizen

    and before Saturday’s final:
    “James Small is the last man to have scored a try in a Super Rugby final overseas for a SA team, in their 45-21 loss to Auckland back in 1996, it will still be the last try scored by a South African in a Super Rugby final to date.” – the Citizen

    Measured by these milestones above, the Lions did well, the scored the first try since 1996 and scored more points in “showpiece” matches than all of the other SA teams combined since 2001.

    Super Rugby has clearly been flawed for a while…

    The SA sides also travel more, since the competition was expanded (from super 12) and this is one of the main reasons we don’t win. You need home advantage to win finals, and we can’t get enough points to finish top of the table. As Swys said:
    “We travel four weeks and they travel two. It makes a hell of a difference. Look at our results week three and four overseas.”

    Add (8-10) points to our team’s positions since super 14 and see the difference.

    I believe super rugby cannot beat this travel problem and we need to look elsewhere.

    • Richard

      We do not want you up north. Stop trying to come up and ruin our competition just because you made yours a joke. We don’t want you South Africans so stop pretending like we do.

      • Barry Smith

        Richard, Super Rugby still has a higher viewership than any other rugby competition on the globe.
        Secondly, you must use “we” in your sentences when there is a plural – that is, more than one. You use “I” when it’s just you!
        Europe is a big place; France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland…. I am quite sure you are not the elected voice of Europe!

      • Johan

        If they don’t want SA in their competitions, they wouldn’t poach so many SA players…

      • SweetAz

        Why, you scared you might lose? If you dont want South Africans please send the 300+ you have poached back home

        • Hopeful

          Unfortunately the 300+ players wouldn’t get the exposure, pay and 1st class competition locally….

          The reality is there is 50% which equates to 7/ 8 Positions avaiale to white players for Springbok colours….without a national contract your earnings are not even close to what the EU contracts offer…

          Kind of settles that “Poaching” issue out doesn’t it…

      • SweetAz

        Why, you scared you might lose?

    • James

      Totally agree. A competition needs to be fair and needs to feel fair. Viewers need to feel like the best team won. The Crusader’s were definitely the team to beat this season, no one is taking that away from them, but the league format needs to be redone to make it fairer for all teams. Having one set of teams on tour for 4 weeks and another on tour for two weeks only gives an advantage to the teams which tour less. It makes you wonder whether a league with 15 teams so geographically dispersed is actually viable.

      • Sharky

        “It makes you wonder whether a league with 15 teams so geographically dispersed is actually viable.”

        Yes, you hit the nail on the head. Super Rugby – as it currently stands – is not viable. It needs to be split into two 10-team tiers or scrapped altogether. I have been in favour of moving north since the disastrous Super 18 was created. This year we’ve seen that that move is possible. So I’d be all for moving our top teams to the PRO14. If SANZAAR kick up a fuss or if we are contractually required to provide Super Rugby with teams than we can send them the Pumas, Griquas, Border and the Leopards. The money is north. A better travel schedule is north. And quality teams are now also north. So let’s do it!

        • Dwayne

          Stop belly aching and enjoy the rugby this comp has most of the worlds best players

          • Sharky

            For now…

  • Matt

    I don’t get it… why is the travel a problem in Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, but its all fine and fair when it comes to rugby world cups?

    If anything, the real problem is that South African rugby is stuck in the amatuer days with amatuer excuses while the sport turned professional decades ago.

    • Chris

      The average SA player travels over 60 000 Km. in the SR tournament over a 7 month period. For the Kiwi teams it averages around 40 000. Ever flown international ? It kicks your butt for 3 days after.

      You can’t compare that to a single flight to get to a world cup venue 2 weeks in advance. Once your in-country, you can get around most host nations in a bus.
      In the USA most pro sports teams have private jets for this reason.

      On top of that SA and Aussie TV viewers basically subsidises NZ’s central contracting system. If we move our provincial rugby to Europe we could also make the weak rand work in our favour. The question of picking overseas players for the Boks would also disappear as they’d be playing in the same leagues.

    • Mike

      For a World Cup everybody travels to the host country. So in essence only one country has home ground advantage. So it is all fine and fair then. Rugby players need to be at their peak week in and week out, when you travel across multiple time zones before big games jet lag will beat you up. Simple science really. Like Swys said look at the performance of SA sides round week 3 and 4 of travel. The dice are loaded. Not that it mattered much this year, the Crusaders were always gonna win it.

      • Matt

        I’ve flown international. Yes, it hits you, when you fly economy and you didn’t get any sleep cramped into your little seat with no leg room. Life is pristine though when you arrive at your destination in the business class conditions these guys fly in (I was lucky to get pumped up on one flight). And actually, the flights were for taking part in competition, not business, and I flew from South Africa to Japan, so have felt the time zone effect too.

        Oh, and um… how do NZ fly 20 000km less than Saffa’s do? Aus and NZ somehow closer to South Africa than South Africa is to Aus and NZ? The extra 2 matches played is minimal travel, not 20 000km.

        Stop for a moment to realise the ‘rugby only’ goggles being worn in this regard. The professional sport with all its benefits overcame these challenges long ago. Yes, they exist, not denying it, but they are the problems and challenges for amatuer sportsmen and teams who do not have the luxury of sponsorships and budgets to overcome them.

        Even the altitude thing used by Aus teams is nonsense. Look at all sports and see how training/living at high altitude is not just a home ground advantage, but an advantage period, due to superior fitness lvls you are suppose to achieve with less effort, and yet the ABs regularly run circles around our guys, even at the highveld. The Aus are nothing more than their own worst enemies, ‘ghosts’ of the amatuer days merely holding them back.

        South Africa sport, with Cricket probably the one exeption due to our stars competing in IPL and all over the world as true professionals, really needs to acknowledge our systems are holding us back, nothing else. Just look at how much improved our overseas based are whenever they return from playing in Europe for 2-5 yrs. It was already evident way back when the joke that was Percy left SA shores only return to absolutely dominate his position in our national team years later, and he was based in Wales!

        We are out played where it matters most, that grey matter between the ears. The single largest difference in development between amatuer era and professional era of any sport.

        • Chris

          “Oh, and um… how do NZ fly 20 000km less than Saffa’s do? Aus and NZ somehow closer to South Africa than South Africa is to Aus and NZ? The extra 2 matches played is minimal travel, not 20 000km.”

          You can look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. The travel info come from the Unions. Pretty easy for them to calculate the miles. In this comp. the travel stats are as important as tackles made/meters gained/turnovers etc.
          Aus and NZ are next to each other, that’s why. The “out of country” games they play against each other require no more travel that a Bulls / Sharks game. For some matches those NZ teams actually sleep in their own beads the same day as the away game in Australia, because of the short flights.
          Imagine Australia were located where Botswana is. We’d only be racking up long haul miles for the Arg/NZ games.

          • Barry Smith

            You have answered your own question. NZ run up way less Klm because of the close proximity of nine of the franchises in Australasia. The longest NZ haul, Christchurch to Auckland is only 700 Klm! But it is mainly the time from home that is an issue – two weeks is tolerrable five weeks is not!

  • Barry

    To much match fixing going on in SA rugby. That’s why they having problems with their BOK players cause writers and commentators are favouring certain players to be the best in the world but when it comes to delivering others are blame but at the end of the day its a team sports. Quota players are setup to fail. Log points are given to certain teams just to get them though all though they not that good.

    • Stuart

      Worst comment ever. Factually flawed, poorly written and generally non-sensical

  • Barry Smith

    New Zealand manipulation is a little more sinister than most will be aware. Teams are Rated annually based on previous seasons results using SOS “strength of schedule”. The Kiwis then link the kilometers travelled and arrange draws accordingly. So for example the Crusaders had the best SOS rating and thus were given the least distance to travel- about 42 000 klm, the Hurricanes second best with 43 000 klm and so on. In other words they give the team most likely to succeed, the best opportunity to do so!!
    The problem is that, for some unknown reason this system seems not to find its way into the SA Conference. For example, the Lions topped the overall log in 2017, yet in 2018 they had a nightmare of a travel schedule, along with the Sharks, being away from home for five weeks and travelling in excess of 70 000 Klm! Seem fair and even handed!
    For those that don’t see a travel issue, perhaps look at this year’s results. There were only three kiwi teams that played two games in SA and none managed to win more than one game! So how is it we expect our chaps to travel for four weeks And come away with more than one win?

  • Barry Smith

    The competition is in fact quite easy to fix, but it is more a question of whether all the parties want it fixed! The Kiwis whinge about the conference system, but in reality the competition is heavily weighed in their favour!
    In order to equalise the travel issue and return to a full round Robin system, there needs to be equal number of teams both ends. It is the only way it can be done fairly! So four teams from SA and four from Australasia – let them decide who gets cut! This would be the premier division of Super 8 rugby. – an abbreviated high impact and exciting competition played over a max 12 weeks! The rest of the cut Australasian teams, plus the added development teams would make up a more localised competition in the second division.
    This should be offered to SANZA on a take it or leave it basis with Europe as an alternative!

    • Michael

      Europe as an alternative?

      You are not some wanted golden ticket so you can keep your racism and sinking rugby back down there and out of our competitions, Thanks!

      • Barry Smith

        Fortunately your narrowed views are in the minority and our sinking rugby just kicked your ass for a series win, as I recall!

    • SweetAz

      Good idea Barry, it will also lessen the amount of injuries suffered by top players. Makes too much sense to ever be adopted by SANZAAR.

  • Kin

    BUT…didnt the crusaders go to South Africa and win last year… Lions were at home and got beaten….

    • Herman Schroder?

      Yes an early red card got them the trophy, true story. Cheers.

    • Barry Smith

      Richard, Super Rugby still has a higher viewership than any other rugby competition on the globe.
      Secondly, you must use “we” in your sentences when there is a plural – that is, more than one. You use “I” when it’s just you!
      Europe is a big place; France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland…. I am quite sure you are not the elected voice of Europe!

    • SweetAz

      There is a big difference between travelling East to West versus travelling West to East as South African teams do,- there have been studies done, Google is your friend. The travel NZ teams have to do is nowhere near as taxing. Even Wikipedia knows this

      • Johan

        And playing with 14 vs 15 for 50 min is never easy, especially in a final…

  • Maxwell

    Stop the exodus of top players and coaches Jake. I tend to thinking SANZAAR dont care about the log format. As you mentioned, it all worked for SANZAAR and is smiling all the way to the bank while the Superrugby outcome is predictable and one sided. Does SANZAAR hold franchises responsible to keep their top players and coaches at bay and secure proper management in order to keep the competition structures like international, local viewers and stadium attendance healthy?

  • Herman Schroder?

    Jake makes some fair points but also falls into the trap of calling the conference system unfair to NZ teams. He also seems to forget the 2016 season when the Lions played only NZ teams and in both 2016 / 7 the NZ teams had the benefit of playing the woeful ‘bunny’ Aussie teams. In 2016 the Lions played NZ teams 7 times winning 4 of them including putting over 40 points against the Crusaders and Highlanders in the play off matches.

    In 2016 the Crusaders and Hurricanes ‘manipulated’ the result in the final round robin match to ensure the Hurricanes pipped the Lions for a home final. In that game the Hurricanes scored four tries ( mostly unheard of in the NZ conference ) to pip the Lions by that one point. Coincidence ? Yeah right.

    This year the Lions may have finished fourth behind their three top teams but still only 3 points behind the Chiefs and 5 behind the Hurricanes. That is only a one match swing over 16 rounds. Losing to the Sharks ( self inflicted ) would have made the differences even smaller despite the fact that the Lions had the 4 tour away matches to contend with. So there is nothing for the NZ teams to cry about. In any case, apart from the Crusaders, if they were so good why did they not win their playoff games ??

    Top of the priority list is equalizing the travel factor, second is totally neutral refs and officials for all games and every team playing each other home and away. If that means reducing the teams even further then so be it. The Stormers and Bulls are quite frankly not up to standard anyway. I said it before, play our CC as the qualifying round for SR with our two top teams going through to play their Australasian equivalents also home and away followed by the semi’s and a final to produce a worthy champion.

    Otherwise going North may well be a very attractive alternative. Anything resembling this years format will be totally unacceptable. Let’s see what the guys who invented the ludicrous ‘4 log points for a bye’ can come up with for next year. Cheers.

  • Shane

    Go watch the final again just to listen to what the actual commentary was.
    Listen to All Black Justin Marshall commenting 3 times how the ref probably made a wrong call against the Lions.

    This was early on and could have put the Crusaders on the back foot and chasing the game.

    I’m not saying that they would have lost but stranger things have happened.

    • Nico

      Fully agree. In both the last 2 finals the Lions had to play against the ref which will always end badly as was the case.

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