Saracens match shows value in heading north

The clash of the hemispheres must be packaged as a bona fide club competition rather than a one-off exhibition game, says JON CARDINELLI.

There were parts of Saturday’s game between Saracens and the Sharks that were entertaining, and yet, afterwards I found myself unsatisfied. I wanted more.

The game delivered its fair share of drama, big hits and crowd-rousing breaks, but the sense of anti-climax was down to an opportunity that continues to be missed.

This past Saturday’s game was a one-off exhibition. Why cannot it be more, mean more, in the context of a club competition that sees the best in the world competing against one another on a regular basis?

The Sharks have returned to South Africa, and Saracens have readjusted their focus to more familiar opponents. Sure, the Sharks gained something from their first hit-out of the season, and Sarries won bragging rights, but imagine the atmosphere at Allianz Park if log points, or even a trophy of significance, were at stake.

By all accounts, the atmosphere at the stadium last Saturday was festive. In a match that actually mattered … well, you get the picture. A world club competition would generate an atmosphere similar to that of a World Cup.

Sharks' director of rugby, Jake White, echoed these sentiments after Saturday’s game. He said it was a great experience to be in London competing against one of the best teams in Europe, and in conditions that were very different to those in South Africa.

There was also a suggestion that White wouldn’t be opposed to more of these inter-hemisphere clashes, if not in a friendly capacity, then in a bona fide club competition involving the best teams on the planet.

A world club competition would generate an atmosphere similar to that of a World Cup

The much-anticipated ‘best of the best’ game between the 2013 Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, and recent European Cup winners Toulon was canned. It was disappointing in that the teams did not meet in what would have been an interesting encounter. However, one has to understand that that much-hyped meeting would have amounted to an exhibition, rather than a contest of any real value.

In the wake of the Saracens vs Sharks clash at Allianz Park, most of us are left to wonder how club rugby could – and should – proceed.

There are multiple benefits for South Africa joining the European market. The financial benefits are obvious, as is a favourable travel schedule.

To put things in perspective, the Sharks have already returned to Durban. They won’t be feeling any travel fatigue after a 12-hour flight back from London.

Super Rugby looms as another energy-sapper for the South African players. The competition continues to plod on, and personally I’m struggling to muster much enthusiasm ahead of the next installment.

The script is just too familiar, too tired, and as always the odds are against a South African side winning it unless they manage to top the overall log at the end of the league stage. Securing a home semi-final and final is the only avenue to silverware in a marathon tournament that runs for five months.

The big clashes such as the Crusaders vs Bulls, the Reds vs the Stormers, and a few of the South African derbies, will continue to captivate, but the league stage comprises too many meaningless matches. Are you failing to get excited ahead of games featuring the Melbourne Rebels, the Western Force, the Lions and the Highlanders? You're definitely not alone.

It’s far more exciting to contemplate clashes between the Bulls and Toulon, the Sharks and Saracens, the Stormers and Leinster. Surely this is where rugby, particularly South African rugby, should be heading; surely this is a necessary evolution.

To stick with Super Rugby is to stagnate. And unfortunately until the powers that be realise the reality, we will continue to be denied a competition pitting the best against the very best.

Eight reasons why South Africa should form a new competition with European and French clubs

Jake White: 'England can be a home away from home for SA teams'

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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