Opinions, Super Rugby

Super Rugby’s reconfiguration has aided Australian competitiveness, should South Africa follow suit?

Super Rugby’s reconfiguration has helped Australian sides become more competitive this year, a similar restructuring could help the cause of the South African teams writes Gavin Rich for Business Day.

It felt like Aussie bashing day for those who spent time on Saturday at both the two big sport stadiums that straddle a railway line that runs through the Newlands precinct in Cape Town’s southern suburbs.

With Stormers coach Robbie Fleck complaining afterwards about what he referred to as the cheap shots of his opponents, it brought more similarity at a time when the talk even at the rugby stadium was dominated by the ball tampering controversy on the other side of the railway line.

The perceived skulduggery of his opponents left Fleck a frustrated man and caused him to overlook a significant fact – his team were the first South African team to score a win over an Australian side in Super Rugby this year.

Yep, you heard that right. There have been six matches between South African and Aussie teams so far in this year’s competition, and for local sides the record reads played six, won one, lost four and drawn one. That synopsis would have seemed fanciful in recent Super Rugby seasons when Aussie bashing was something that spanned several months.

With the Reds digging in and managing to lose just by six points, it wasn’t even as if they were easy to beat either, and let’s not forget that they had to get to Cape Town from Buenos Aires during the week via London.

The bottom line that has been drummed out in the opening weeks, and it was underlined by the Rebels’ ridiculously one-sided and easy win over the Sharks a day earlier – if you watched that game you might agree the Rebels should have won by more than 46 – 14 – is that the Super Rugby reconfiguration has helped Australian rugby.

When it was announced that the Aussies would lose a team when Super Rugby shrunk from 18 to 15 teams, the Western Force went to the gallows whinging in a manner that has become the signature of that nation’s cricket team. But while Western Australia may have lost out, the greater competitiveness of their teams is helping Australia and should in time filter positive psychology and experience into the Wallabies.

We will know more about just how much the Australians have improved when they start playing New Zealand teams this week, but in relation to the South African sides, they have made a quantum step forward. Of course, the South African participation in the tournament was shrunk by six to four, but the same effect is not being felt here because the two teams that dropped out didn’t go out of existence. They are just playing in a different competition (the PRO14).

Another dramatic big change to the Super Rugby format is likely after the next World Cup and perhaps South African administrators should pay attention to what is happening in Australia. They should look to either cut our participation in Super Rugby to three strong Super teams, with the Gauteng region forming into one team with the other union, the Lions or Bulls, participating in Europe, or they should make it clearer that Super Rugby is the competition that feeds the Springboks.

The latter move would prevent the flaw many readers can probably see in my argument, that being that South Africa would then still its strength diluted across six teams. There are benefits to participating in Europe, mostly financial, that were mentioned in this column previously.

But having teams participating in different competitions does present a national selection headache. Given that Rassie Erasmus’ assistants are working with the Super Rugby teams in an attempt to both help out and get to know the players, you could say that the players from the two PRO14 teams are already at a disadvantage when it comes to Bok selection. For instance, how do you measure Francois Venter against Damian de Allende or Rohan Janse van Rensburg when the three centres are playing in different competitions?

If the teams playing PRO14 can start attracting some of the more than 400 South Africans playing overseas back into local rugby, then the teams participating in Europe will be competitive and youngsters coming into the system through the PRO14 route will learn from the experienced returned expats.

There should be an understanding though that those players who excel in PRO14 can be drawn on by the elite Super Rugby teams. That idea might not go down well with the PRO14 coaches but wouldn’t having the top resources channelled into three strong Super Rugby sides help the Boks?

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