South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins believes the Tri-Nations is in need of a massive overhaul.
From a South African perspective the 2007 tournament was a non-event, with former Springbok head coach Jake White using the Australasian tour as an opportunity to test fringe players ahead of the World Cup, while putting his elite players through their paces in a training camp.
Last year featured a shortened tournament – with each side playing each other in a home and away leg. The tournament culminated in New Zealand beating Australia in the unofficial final to claim the title.
In 2008 the tournament will revert back to a nine-game format, with each team playing each other thrice. Hoskins, initially asked for his views on the viability of the Super 14 in it’s current format, believes the Tri-Nations is too long and reinforced the widely held view that the travel schedule seriously compromises the chances of success for the Springboks.
“SANZAR are discussing ways to improve the Super 14 but it remains a very good product. The Tri-Nations in it’s current format is, however, a major concern for me,” Hoskins told keo.co.za.
“It’s too long and doesn’t capture the imagination of the supporters as a result. It has certainly gone backwards and that’s a problem we have to address urgently because the tournament is in trouble. What’s more, it is an ongoing problem that the Springboks don’t get a fair bite at the cherry because of the effects of travel.
“If they have a poor tour, South African interest in the tournament is lost, as it inevitably ends up being a two-horse race between New Zealand and Australia. That’s not a healthy situation for us to be in.”
The tournament will remain in its current format until 2011 because a $323 million broadcasting deal with media giants News Corp, signed in 2005, prevents the addition of any teams or changes in scheduling. Hoskins said both those options are being discussed by SANZAR for the 2011 tournament.
Among the SANZAR administrators, it is hoped the introduction of the ELVs into the Tri-Nations will give the tournament a much needed jolt. The Super 14 has, however, shown that the new laws often result in matches degenerating into scrappy affairs marked by a plethora of free kicks conceded at the breakdown, which certainly wouldn‘t make for an entertaining Test match for either the players or spectators.
The tournament certainly needs an overhaul, as does the Super 14, which features far too many dour contests packed into 13 weeks. How SANZAR hopes to achieve that remains to be seen.
By Ryan Vrede