Vodacom Super Rugby in its current format offers nothing to be excited about and the expanded version in 2016 will do nothing to invigorate a waning brand, writes RYAN VREDE.
We're three weeks away from the kick-off of the 2015 Super Rugby campaign and I'm already bored at the thought of it. It's like a once-champion sprinter who is ageing and trying to stay competitive and relevant by taking the occasional shot of anabolic steroids. The last jab the competition got swelled it to 15 teams and a conference system. It flexed proudly for a season but was soon left a pale imitation of a tournament that commands attention.
Needle will meet buttock cheek once again in 2016 with the expansion to 18 teams – with an additional team from South Africa and one each from Argentina and Japan. The buff new bull will be paraded proudly by Sanzar, who will peddle the rhetoric that Super Rugby remains the premier club rugby tournament in the world.
The novelty of watching the three new entrants competing will soon wear off, the positive sentiment towards them sure to be replaced by sadness as they take multiple hidings from the established franchises.
I've become increasingly cynical about the tournament because I believe there is a better alternative in the form of a Super 10 as the premier-tier comp, with another eight to 10 teams involved in a second-tier tussle that is incentivised by promotion. An educated guess is that the broadcasters, who are the most powerful stakeholders in the game (outside of the fans), wouldn't be able to sell two southern hemisphere tournaments to their viewers. Instead, they gift wrap a brick and present it as something completely useful. I could think of a singular use for that brick and it involves aiming it at my TV when butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers compete against each other under the guise of world-class rugby.
The 2016 version of the tournament is set up in such a way that it could easily accommodate further expansion. Given the track record, that is a near certainty when the five-season broadcasting deal is reviewed. We could, and probably will, have a Super 20 in 2021. The southern hemisphere doesn't have the sheer number of players needed to ensure a high-calibre tournament in its current format. Where will the numbers come from for a 20-team tournament?
The players and fans are compromised while the franchises and broadcasting rights holders bank big. I've asserted previously that Super Rugby has and will continue to seriously compromise Test rugby in so much as the ever-growing injury rate in the former has and will rob the latter of the ability to consistently pit full-strength versus full-strength. This is certainly true for the Springboks given their elite players are not centrally contracted. Franchise coaches operating in a results-driven environment are loathe to rest their best, subjecting them to the risk of serious injury caused by overplaying. Based on this premise, I'm utterly convinced the Springboks will contest the World Cup this year missing at least two players absolutely central to their success.
I can't see the situation changing for what I – and perhaps many of you – would consider the better. However, to passively accept it would be to bow to the will of the money men who are trying to sell you a brick. Rugby lovers will follow the journey of their preferred side this year, but I can't see many of them tuning in for the duels between the lesser sides. Interest will peak once again at play-off time but is that really the type of tournament we want. Is it the one you deserve?
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