Sanzar continues to confuse

The timing of Sanzar's proposal to change the bonus-point system as well as the proposal itself makes no rugby sense, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The new Super Rugby format stinks. Most are in agreement on that point. Indeed, if a coach as calm and level-headed as Gary Gold is publicly denouncing the new structure as absurd, what are the other bosses saying behind closed doors? If the soft-spoken Pat Lambie is having a crack at the convoluted format and nonsensical fixture list, one can only imagine how the rest of the playing fraternity feels about it.

The problems with the new format were evident from the day it was announced. As more teams have been added to the roster, there has been a move away from a structure that sees everybody playing each other once during the league phase. The latest version of Super Rugby has taken it one giant step further: half of the South African teams won't play the New Zealand franchises during the regular season.

That alone should be reason to cry foul, to denounce this tournament as a competition without integrity. And yet a lot has transpired over the past year or so, events which suggest the new 18-team competition could be an even bigger mess and failure than anyone predicted.

The Southern Kings have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Their financial plight has limited their development, and they have lost a number of top players. The brand-new franchise in Japan, the Sunwolves, only recently confirmed their coaching staff and playing squad.

These two teams will take a pounding in 2016. The Kings and Sunwolves' opponents during the league stage – their group opponents in particular – will be at a considerable advantage compared to those who won't play these teams at all. One would expect opponents to bank maximum log points against the Kings and Sunwolves.

But it doesn't end there. Sanzar, in all its wisdom, is now pushing for a change to the bonus-point system. It's claimed that the change will encourage more attacking rugby, as dominant teams will be motivated to play positively for 80 minutes so as to maintain a three-try gap between themselves and opponents.

However, when one looks at the proposed change closely, it's clear that teams with a good defence will benefit. For example, if Team A can prevent Team B from scoring a single try, then they will only need to score three tries themselves in order to claim the bonus point.

The timing of the proposal is outrageous. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has confirmed that he and his colleagues received nothing more than an email to advise them of the change. We're just a month away from the start of the tournament, and Sanzar is proposing a change that could demand a profound shift in strategy and tactics.

Blackadder said that his team will simply 'adapt and get on with it'. He was kind when he described the decision and process as 'bizarre'.

Sanzar has done the teams no favours with the timing of this proposal. It will compromise the approach of those teams that have been preparing in earnest since November.

In the end, it should also impact on the quality of rugby on display, or what marketing types call 'the product'. In 2016, the product is going to be nothing to shout about. It will be at odds with the name of the tournament.

Until such time when Sanzar comes to its senses and makes changes to strengthen rather than weaken the competition, until it moves to restore the tournament's integrity, we may have to live with rugby that's anything but super.

Photo: Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli