Schalk Burger believes that a return to a round-robin format will improve the standard of play as well as the level of interest in the Super Rugby tournament. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Stormers were hammered 60-21 by the Chiefs in the quarter-final at Newlands on Saturday. The result brought an end to their 2016 campaign, as well as an end to Burger’s 13-year tenure at the franchise. The 86-Test Springbok will join Saracens on a two-year contract in the coming weeks.
After the match, Burger and Fleck admitted that the Stormers were outplayed by a superior Chiefs outfit. At the same time, both the captain and the coach felt that the new structure of the tournament had done the Stormers no favours.
The Stormers were drawn in the Africa 1 conference this year, and pitted against the five Australian teams. They did not play against any of the New Zealand franchises in the lead-up to the playoffs.
While the Stormers (along with the Highlanders) conceded the fewest tries during the conference stage, they were not competing against the best teams in the tournament. Indeed, their efforts were put into perspective when they met their first Kiwi opponents in the playoffs, and leaked eight tries and as many as 60 points.
‘Not playing any New Zealand teams in the buildup to this game was a big factor [to the Stormers’ performance and defeat],’ said Fleck. ‘I said it earlier in the week: The New Zealand sides play at a different intensity.
‘The Chiefs showed that in the first half against us. They played at an incredible tempo, something we hadn’t experienced at all in previous matches. We would have liked to have tested ourselves against these teams earlier in the season.’
Burger, who has experienced the 12-team, 14-team, 15-team, and now 18-team versions of Super Rugby, said that Sanzaar needs to rethink the structure of the regular season. Evidently, the present conference system is not producing the best rugby, and is not being enjoyed by the fans if dwindling viewership and crowd figures are any indicator. Only 29,000 attended the quarter-final at Newlands, a stadium that can house 52,000.
‘Perhaps they need to get rid of the conference system and get back to the old round-robin format,’ the Stormers captain said. In the latter format, a team needed to compete against every other side in the tournament during the regular season. The teams with the most log points were rewarded with playoff berths.
Nowadays, at least one team from each of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is guaranteed a home playoff regardless of how many log points they obtain.
‘The conference format has been a bit complex to follow, even for the players,’ said Burger. ‘To be honest, you want to be testing yourself against every team. You also want those life experiences of travelling to play against an All Blacks-laden Crusaders side on a cold, wet night in Christchurch. You want those challenges, as they ensure you keep growing and that you remain up to speed with where other teams are.
‘I know that the Stormers will be on the other end of it next year, when they play all five New Zealand sides. But again, they might miss something by not playing the Aussie teams.’
The Lions and Sharks competed on the tougher side of the draw, and still managed to qualify for the playoffs. The Lions won their quarter-final on Saturday, and will host a semi-final against the Highlanders next week. Fleck and Burger believe the Lions will do South Africa proud in the latter stages of the tournament.
‘That’s been a big positive for South African rugby this year. The Lions have shown that they can play that same style as the New Zealanders,’ said Burger.
Fleck wished the Lions all the best in the coming semi-final, and in a possible final.
‘The Lions are going in the right direction,’ the Stormers coach said. ‘Hopefully they can go all the way and prove that South Africa has the players to play at the same level as the Kiwis.
‘We’ve tried to do the same this season at the Stormers, but it is a process,’ he added. ‘We’re very disappointed with this loss to the Chiefs, but we’ve learned a lot and will attempt to close the gap in the coming months.’
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