End the road kill

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that South Africa must provide the blueprint for a fairer and healthier Super 14.

It is a resolution that South African rugby seeks for its continued participation in the Super 14. Ignore talk of a revolution and moving north.

South Africa needs New Zealand and Australia as much as the duo needs South Africa. Commercially, none can afford to go it alone post 2010.

It may be fighting talk to suggest a move north for South African teams, but it is also foolish talk. Those who scream with such enthusiasm of South Africa aligning its rugby with Europe have failed to do the geography of when it is summer in the south and winter in the north.

For Europe to accommodate South Africa, the latter’s rugby authorities would have to change the South African season and make rugby a sport played in summer – starting in September and finishing in June.

Europe is not going to change 100 years of tradition as part of its welcome to South Africa.

Let’s move on from that idea and excuse the ignorance of those who canvass such a move.

And let’s get straight to the point of the Super 14, as SARU president Regan Hoskins will do when he meets with the SANZAR partners in London. The Super 14, in its current format, has to change if there is to be a future for the competition.

Every competition’s strength, equally its weakness, is in the format. SANZAR’s greed goblins got it wrong when they extended the Super 12 to Super 14. The tournament should either have been reduced by two teams or restructured as two-section competition, with less matches but better quality.

The broadcaster wants quality more than quantity. Southern Hemisphere rugby sold it soul to get a good price in the renegotiation of the NewsCorp deal. They did it out of greed and they gave the broadcaster more games, believing this to be add-on value.

The Broadcaster was never going to say no thank you to the extra games.

The numbers crunchers did not think of the players or the travel demands. They saw the Benjamin Franklins. Curse them.

South Africa suffered the most, as it has done from inception. It is not a whinge that South Africa’s teams are on the road for five weeks and the Aussies and Kiwis travel on average three weeks at a time in Super 14. It is a fact.

It is not a whinge that in 80 percent of the tournament’s history four league points have separated the team placing fourth from the hapless mob who have finished eighth. It is a fact. Four league points … that’s one away game or one home game, depending on your nationality.

It is not a South African whinge that only three teams in the history of the tournament have a 50-plus percent away record. It is a fact. It is also not a boast that only the Crusaders and Blues have a 50-plus percent win record in South Africa. It is a fact. Playing away from home kills you in the Super 14 – and South African teams have been burdened with double the road trips in a decade.

Every year we knock our players’ performance in the competition, but if their big overseas adventure was three weeks instead of five, how many of those seventh or eighth place finishes would have been third, fourth or perhaps even top two league finishers?

Hoskins, as he told the Mercury’s Mike Greenaway, knows there is a problem. Now he has to find a resolution. It won’t help to threaten New Zealand or Australia and Hoskins has accepted this. It is a resolution that Hoskins must produce to ensure a healthier future for the South African game.

And primary to the solution is the reduction of tournament games to ensure every team is on the road for the same amount of time.

Super rugby has not been bad for the South African game. The greed goblins, who have structured the tournament, have been bad for South African rugby. They have treated South African players like second rate cargo when they are first rate assets, not only to South African rugby but to Southern Hemisphere rugby.

Hoskins knows he has to invest in the players. And the biggest investment he can make is to turn Super rugby into a contest again where what is good for New Zealand and Australia is good for South Africa.

And that means the same road trip for everyone.