Domestic bliss

Keo, in his News24 column, writes that the Kiwis’ domestic final was a flop when compared to SA’s season-ending Currie Cup epic.

For once the chance to boast. Yes, a rugby final in South Africa that New Zealand could not match.

I found myself bored watching New Zealand’s domestic final. It really did seem like something after the Lord Mayor’s show, when weighed against the achievements of the Crusaders in the Super 14 and the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations.

For once New Zealand’s players didn’t seem from another planet. Their skill level was not superior to ours, the defence in the final was ordinary at times (most notably legendary All Black Tana Umaga) and the tempo of the game could not be compared with the 100 minute Currie Cup final epic produced by the Bulls and Cheetahs.

New Zealand, like South Africa, has discovered new talent through the resting of their established internationals, but when the two finals are compared there was so much more for South Africans to get excited about.

I know that this does not necessarily translate into better Super 14 performances. The time of year has to be factored in and the levels of motivation when it comes to some of the senior players. The southern hemisphere season, in its current structure, revolves around the Super 14 and the Tri-Nations. It is for these months that the players build to a peak. The domestic competition is seen as a feeder to these competitions and until the structure changes this will always be the case.

So often we chastise ourselves for lacking the quality of New Zealand’s rugby equivalent. But there was nothing in New Zealand’s final to suggest they are harder or more physical. If anything the intensity and brutality at the breakdown of the South African final was a heavyweight clash that made New Zealand’s seem like a middleweight clash.

Our boys are more physical, but unfortunately it only comes to the fore in one-off matches, be it a final or occasionally in the Tri-Nations or Super 14. We don’t have the consistency to our game to match the Kiwis and that’s what our coaches need to be addressing.

It felt good to be able to reflect on a great domestic final, but the euphoria is tempered when you consider New Zealand will announce their Super 14 squads on Friday and we don’t even know who our fifth team is going to be.

The Super 14 starts on February 2 next year and already the fifth team has the excuse for failure. Their management will argue that they didn’t even know they’d be playing in Christchurch or Brisbane next year. It is an outrageous situation.

This brings me to David Moffett’s statement that New Zealand needs to get rid of South Africa, can the Super 14 and go it alone or hook up with Australia. Moffett, involved in union and league and one of the more influential administrators in the early stages of rugby union professionalism, is right in principal.

You can’t fault his logic that New Zealand should invest more in their own domestic competition and that South Africa should focus on the Currie Cup as their premier competition. Practically, we all know it is a load of bollocks.

If there is no Super 14 or Tri-Nations, then there is no big television deal. South Africa has to be a component for the television deal. Take them away and New Zealand will find itself much the poorer commercially.

It is not the Super 14 or Tri-Nations that is the problem, it is the format. The Super 14 should never have been increased as it now stands. It should have stayed as the Super 12 and New Zealand should have lost a franchise. Alternatively, it should have increased to the Super 16, with the additional Australian team, one from Argentina and one from the Pacific Islands. The format should then have been split into two pools of eight, with the top two in each group reaching the semi-finals.

The Tri-Nations should have been expanded to include Argentina and the Pacific Islands and played on a single round basis. That’s four games a year, as per the old northern hemisphere Five Nations, with the schedule rotating on a home and away basis every year.

Such a tournament would have renewed interest and be able to sustain the commercial value. But greed has meant that the unions and broadcasters are squeezing too much out of the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies and the contest has suffered.

Only 26 000 watched the All Blacks in Rustenburg and only 44 000 made it to Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Compared to previous years, that’s a 33% drop in attendance for those two teams in South Africa. Surely the clever boys at Sanzar can see that.

Talk of South Africa leaving Sanzar post 2010 and playing in Europe also sounds a lot easier in theory. For South Africa to play in the northern hemisphere competition, all the compromise will have to come from South Africa. The season would have to change domestically and rugby would have to be a summer sport to accommodate the northern hemisphere playing demands. It won’t happen.

Continuing the Sanzar alliance is good for the game, but not in its current state. There has to be a rethink of the competition structure, the travel demands have to be balanced out and the search for a system that provides a fair contest between all has to be the priority.

In the meantime, we can take some pleasure from our domestic final. If nothing else, it must have made us feel good about our rugby.