Three times a failure

JON CARDINELLI can’t understand why the pointless Tri-Series is packaged as an entertaining contest.

The Tri-Series has concluded, and I find myself reaching for superlatives that simply don’t apply. Underwhelming is the best word to describe the three-game sham masquerading as a contest, and I’m underwhelmed because, like many other people, I made the mistake of thinking this most recent tournament meant something.

Did these results matter? No say the coaches of the Lions, Sharks and Stormers. Is there a trophy? Asked last week, one coach wasn’t even sure, but dismissed the question by reinforcing point number one: performance is the priority.

There’s no need to paint a set of pre-season games as a tournament, no need to lie to the public by telling them that warm-up games are contests. There’s no need to charge them to watch these games, nor televise them, because all it does is fuel the expectation of paying customers.

I’m disappointed as a rugby fan, but I would be livid if I’d had to pay to watch the Tri-Series. It’s like paying to watch training sessions be it on a rugby field or in the cricket nets. The players are sharpening their game for the tournament that matters, and while there’s value in watching pre-season matches so as to gauge performances and sneak a peak at potential combinations, there shouldn’t be the drama and illusion that results matter.

I attended all three Tri-Series games, and from what I heard from the public and press, there was a massive sense of anticlimax. But should we have got our hopes up in the first place, or should we have treated these practice sessions for what they were? And the question is directed not only to the fans and media, but to the authorities that green light ‘competitions’ like the Tri-Series.

Pre-season games are scrappy affairs, with coaches experimenting with different combinations. It’s also a time where coaches are reluctant to show their hand. As you can imagine, a pre-season tournament like the Tri-Series that’s watched on national television, and written about by journalists from all over South Africa, is unlikely to give much away in terms of tactical strengths and innovative ploys.

The authorities need to move away from this failed marketing exercise and embrace the kind of marketing that matters. Before 2009, a team like the Stormers would travel to Paarl or Wellington to tackle Boland in a set of pre-season friendlies. The fixtures were a hit in the local communities, and the coaches and players were able to experiment without fear of mass scrutiny or the risk of giving too much away.

There was usually one fixture against another Super Rugby opponent, but the fixture was never hyped to the extent that it is today. There also wasn’t a whole tournament reserved for the pre-season, as the right people realised that too much exposure can be a bad thing. Injuries are also a realistic concern, so you don’t want to be playing too many games at Super Rugby intensity before the tournament has even started. In this sense, the Bulls and Cheetahs have got it right with their pre-season programmes.

The three recent games at Newlands revealed little in terms of how the Lions, Sharks and Stormers will play this year. It may have shown which individuals are out of form, who still lacks conditioning, and who’d rather be at home, but that the Sharks lost two and the Stormers won two matters as little as the Tri-Series title itself.

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