Return of the quick questions: Is this the future of Super Rugby?

Super Rugby AU has been concluded and the Brumbies have added another trophy to the cabinet. In a final that had everything it was a just reward for being the standout Australian team across both competitions in 2020. But this means the tipping panel have a bit of time on their hands, so we’ve decided […]

Return of the quick questions: Is this the future of Super Rugby?

Super Rugby AU has been concluded and the Brumbies have added another trophy to the cabinet. In a final that had everything it was a just reward for being the standout Australian team across both competitions in 2020.

But this means the tipping panel have a bit of time on their hands, so we’ve decided to revive an old format that has been sitting in the bottom draw of a desk for a few years: the quick questions.

First, though, a quick wrap of the tipping panel for 2020: in the end Harry’s red mist allowed The Crowd to swoop and Brett to catch him again.

Last week
Brett, Geoff, Nobes, Dan and The Crowd all had the Brumbies; Harry and Digger took the Reds.

The Crowd 31, Harry and Brett 30, Dan 29, Digger 28, Geoff and Nobes 27.

(Photo by David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)

We’ll try to get the panel operational again later in the year, when hopefully the Rugby Championship can still take place.

The quick questions do what it says on the tin: a couple of tricky questions for each of the panellists to tackle as a way of kicking off some quality rugby chat. Simples.

Question 1

Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Ruby AU have now wrapped up and last week South Africa announced that their own Super Rugby Unlocked will be incorporated into their Currie Cup competition. But is this the future? Internal competitions with a future possibility of crossover finals? And would we be happy if that is the way forward?

Red-faced I am, but fair play to Brett McKay for chasing me down, tipping his homeboys to take the SRAU chocolates.

Super Rugby AU is back at work. They have very little money, so a bonanza of 16 weekends of top-level rugby makes sense. If they truly have no money at all, Super Rugby AU may even feel the need to tour to Australia without half their world champion squad, locked up in European and British contracts and obligations.

Two trophies are on offer: the SR Unlocked and the grand old Currie Cup, with a novel linkage between both. I say yes. Hell yes! If you’ve seen a photo of Frans Malherbe recently, you’ll know that he ate Bryson DeChambeau and his caddy.

He needs to play! Soon!

While Super Rugbies AU and Aotearoa were great successes, we need to keep in mind that any new product is going to attract attention early on. Once it’s not-so-new the same five teams playing each other over and again just isn’t going to have the same allure.

Australia doesn’t have the talent pool or the funding to rapidly expand beyond the current five-team set-up. Hell, even New Zealand’s depth will struggle with the introduction of a sixth team, at least according to the Aratipu report.

Ultimately it’ll come down to the almighty (broadcast) dollar, and I can’t see our TV overlords nodding their assent to another however many years of competition with half the games in difficult time zones. My preferred long-term option would be a trans-Tasman competition and maybe a comparable South African tournament that includes a side or two from Argentina, with Rugby AU’s proposed Champions League-style tournament coming straight after.

Hoskins Sotutu runs the ball

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Unfortunately the outlook for Argentina is very bad, and the future of professional rugby that had developed with Jaguares has disappeared or is on the way to extinction.

The effort that the countries of the south made to add them to the Super Rugby and Rugby Championship was enormous and I will always be very grateful considering that the geographical location of Argentina is really uncomfortable for the powers of the south or the north.

The only possibility I see is to develop rugby in peripheral countries and in the very long term try to have a competitive tournament in America, but the difference in today’s rugby between potential participating countries and Argentina is too great to attract players of calibre and may just be used as a testbed where players can show themselves to aspire to play somewhere else on the planet

Certainly it’s hard not to see this type of format for the immediate future and perhaps without the cross over finals in this COVID-19 world. But no, it does not make me particularly happy if this is where we end up.

I for one was a fan of Super Rugby and enjoyed the privilege of watching the overseas sides contest.

Sure, there were issues, but I cannot help but think we will end up poorer for it.

It seems increasingly certain that, like it or not, rugby’s near future resides in competitions that are mostly domestic. To date Australian and New Zealand governments have demonstrated ultra-conservatism, and even once upcoming elections are out of the way do not expect free-flowing international travel to suddenly be switched on. A trans-Tasman finals crossover might be manageable, but the best hope for seeing any international participants in Super Rugby next year will be in the form of a few stray Argentinians mopped up by needy franchises and perhaps a Fijian or Japanese side permanently based in Australia.

Is that a good thing? Yes, if the alternative is no rugby at all, but with Qantas a high-profile casualty, Argentine rugby another, COVID remains a huge negative force on the game. It’s really will be a matter of limping through until we find where new normal is and restructuring from there.

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It certainly appears that this is the immediate future, yes. For one thing, South Africa not wrapping up its Unlocked/Currie Cup finals until late January makes any possible coming together of the SANZAAR partners next year impossible no matter how committed to the partnership the governing body insists all partners are. And that’s before we even consider the situation in Argentina.

Also, can you imagine playing a final in Durban in January!?

But I reckon these internal competitions have an extremely limited shelf life. These new competitions feel to me like the early days of South Park after a decade of The Simpsons – they were new, they were exciting and they had all the lovable edginess that the old format had but seemed to have lost. But the popularity didn’t last.

Aotearoa and AU have produced great rugby and probably will again next year too. But in the long term hands need to be forced. South Africa needs to declare theirs, and the competitions either side of the Tasman need something more to aim for if private equity attraction really is a goal.

Brumbies Tom Banks and Noah Lolesio celebrate a try

(Photo by David Gray/AFP via Getty Images)

Question 2

Japan has already moved onto 2021 and question marks remain over the possibility and likelihood of the Rugby Championship and the Six-to-Eight Nations going ahead as planned later this year – but would it really matter if no major international tournaments were played in 2020? Would it really hurt if the international focus shifted to what might be doable next year?

In the long term there still needs to be cross-pollination between the SANZAAR lands. New Zealand needs to play SA brawn and top-line speed; SA needs to test itself against Anzac tricks and skill. Argentina needs to play the big southern hemisphere three to stay in the mix. Australia needs big cash. And a new sponsor. Both.

So I prefer a Champions League for Super Rugby and continued Rugby Championship. But doing any of it this year poses serious issues.

I think I’d just push Bok Test rugby to 2021 in total, but I just don’t know how dire it is.

On the more immediate international front, let’s go back to that almighty dollar, because that’s what rugby stands to lose with no Tests this year. There are television obligations to fulfill, and no governing body will willingly forego a broadcast cheque at the best of times.

Needless to say, these are not the best of times, which is why I’d be surprised if we don’t get some kind of a Rugby Championship this year, even if the Springboks are replaced by the B Boks.

On the field, with a new generation of Wallabies starting to be ushered in, it’d be a crying shame if we have to wait until 2021 to see the first Test of the Dave Rennie era. Same goes for what the All Blacks will look like under Ian Foster. And with their players match fit after the two domestic seasons, the Bledisloe Cup should remain a high-quality affair.

Plus, we’ve lost enough rugby this year. I don’t want to lose any more.


(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

UAR should no longer have money in its coffers, the leverage of having Agustin Pichot in World Rugby no longer exists, the sponsors are gone and the best players have already started with new contracts for European rugby clubs and someone else will go to Australia.

I don’t see the possibility of putting together a very competitive team for some kind of Super Rugby in the near future, and being able to present a decent team at the Rugby Championship will depend on the willingness of the northern hemisphere clubs to lend the players.

Not to mention for this next tournament to be played in Australia with players who could not play in six months and only train this last month with no fewer than eight COVID-positive players. Needless to say, the difficulty of bringing players who thrive in Europe with the existing health barriers and the monetary cost of taking players to Australia for a UAR with almost no income.

No, I really do not believe it would be a major issue. Ignoring all the real-world stuff for a moment and based purely on selfish reasons, I would have preferred seeing a fully beefed-up Mitre 10 Cup played out to its conclusion and a more thorough and sure international schedule drafted for 2021 to look forward too.

The idea of ill-prepared or international B squads competing in the Rugby Championship this year is frankly not that exciting.

The Bledisloe should be keenly contested, but it just feels like we would all be better off focusing internally for the balance of 2020.

I’m all for salvaging from this year every last scrap of rugby we can. Every Test match not played is another bucket of money lost – money that none of the SANZAAR unions can afford to lose.

Argentina’s preparation and South Africa’s selection may be compromised but this year isn’t about thumping chests over who beats who; it’s about keeping afloat.

If it’s good enough for 150-odd international cyclists to race around France for three weeks – a huge logistical exercise in a far more COVID-challenging environment – and in the process putting on a thrilling contest that came down to the penultimate day, then it should be a breeze for SANZAAR’s professional rugby players to put on a show over a few weekends.

I’ve got no doubt international rugby will be flogged this year for every last inch, even it means we only see Bledisloe and Calcutta Cup Tests.

But this year more than ever it feels to me that if not everyone can play Test rugby, then maybe no-one should.

And this is where World Rugby should be really looking at its charter and realising that the rainy days it has been saving all its Rugby World Cup revenue for are well and truly here. There will be more World Cups. There might not be as many participants if the governing body doesn’t start aiding the game in its time of greatest need.

Source : The Roar More