Posts Tagged ‘Stormers’

Give Allister and Stick a sporting chance

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it.

Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine players of colour and still be the best in the country. In his eight years at the helm, he led the Stormers to the top of the South African conference three times, and won the Currie Cup twice.

Almost half the players in Stick’s Under-19 team, which went on to win the Under-19 Currie Cup, were black, most of them from the Eastern Cape.

Neither came from a culture that privileged whiteness, and they gave the lie to the prevailing wisdom in parts of South African rugby: that black players weaken a team and are the tax you pay to appease the politicians.

Stick grew up in a Port Elizabeth township with a mother who frequently struggled to put food on the table. He attended the local township school, and yet still managed to make it to the top, captaining the Sevens team that won the World Series title in 2008-09.

Coetzee grew up in Grahamstown. He has a vivid memory of watching white boys at nearby Kingswood College play rugby with the best equipment, while he had to walk to the much poorer coloured school down the road. His father died while he was very young and his mother struggled to provide for him and his three siblings.

 

 

ALTHOUGH a talented and ambitious scrumhalf, his race precluded him from playing for SA.

Stick and Coetzee reflect the tough life experiences common to the majority of South Africans, and their elevation to the upper echelons of the game must make it seem much more accessible than it has in the past.

Neither has a chip on the shoulder, or sees himself as a victim. Their victory against the odds they were born into shows character and emotional resilience.

These qualities came in handy when dealing with their respective managements.

Stick answered to the deeply dysfunctional Eastern Province Rugby Union, and Coetzee endured eight years of frequently erratic and interfering management under the Western Province Rugby Union.

But the pressures on the Springbok coach, in particular, are way more intense and, without proper support, Coetzee will struggle.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has done well to appoint Coetzee and Stick. But it now needs to prove that this is not window-dressing. It needs to give their new Bok coach all the resources he needs to succeed. Otherwise, his appointment will be seen to be a cynical one, setting him up to fail.

Similar privileges to those accorded to Heyneke Meyer would be a good start.

Saru forked out substantial sums at the start of Meyer’s tenure to enable him to bring his own management team from the Bulls. He was then allowed to add more coaches, such as breakdown specialist, Richie Gray.

As yet, Coetzee does not appear to be similarly indulged. There is no evidence that he has picked any members of the team announced on Tuesday.

Given that he has already been disadvantaged by being appointed three-and-a-half months late, Saru needs to do all it can to help him, otherwise it risks being accused of not giving the same opportunities to a black coach as it gave to a white, Afrikaans one.

The corporate world should come to the party: any new sponsorship deals should be predicated on better governance, which would include equal opportunity for all employees, regardless of colour.

There has been talk of the Super Rugby coaches forming a Bok “selection committee”. This must be rapidly scotched. Meyer fought for — and won — the right to have ultimate say over selection. Rightly, he argued that if he were to be held responsible for winning every game, he needed to be able to pick his team.

The Super Rugby franchises need to play their part and put petty provincial rivalry aside.

The initiative introduced in Meyer’s term of systematically resting key Springbok players during Super Rugby must be continued.

Super Rugby coaches should also give more players of colour some proper game time to increase the pool available to Coetzee.

Fans need to give the new coaching team the benefit of the doubt. A bit of generosity of spirit would go a long way. Fans, particularly those who flock to Ellis Park for the iconic All Black derbies, should learn the first verses of the national anthem so that we are no longer subjected to the dramatic amplification of sound when English and Afrikaans verses are sung. It’s not that difficult. Make an effort.

 

 

DESPITE the autumn chill in the air, there is a sense of spring-time, of new beginnings, about rugby. Unlike Meyer, who looked to seasoned troops right from the start of his campaign, Coetzee will have to start afresh. Most of last year’s team have either retired, are approaching retirement, or are playing abroad.

This should not be a problem for Coetzee, who has proved that he is happy to trust youngsters.

Stick is something of a specialist in turning rookies into stars, given his track record with the Eastern Province Under-19s.

Transformation, which is viewed as a burden by Meyer, will come naturally to Coetzee.

At the Stormers, Coetzee displayed the ability effortlessly to forge racially and culturally diverse teams. Boys of colour were given every opportunity, but so were white players. Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth flourished in his time, as did Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, and Nizaam Carr.

There is a good chance that, with Coetzee and Stick at the helm, the sense of marginalisation that has plagued black Springboks will be a thing of the past. Under Meyer, Afrikaans was used for team talks, which was alienating for black players. The new Bok set-up hopefully will better reflect our diversity of languages.

Stick’s Under-19s also brought a vibrant culture from their Eastern Cape schools — with traditional isiXhosa war and struggle songs borrowed from their elders.

Some infusion of this into Bok culture could only enrich it.

• McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok, and a visiting researcher at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town.

* This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it. Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine […]

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The first Muslim Springbok

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IMG_0499RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign.

Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will this Saturday have to fill the big boots of Duane Vermeulen, who has been forced out with a neck injury. If the Stormers beat the Brumbies, they have a shot at making the Super Rugby finals.

Carr will enter the fray on an empty stomach. He will have been up before dawn to down a protein shake and some steak and pasta but by the time he runs out onto the field at Newlands at 5pm, he will not have eaten for several hours. Over the next month, he is likely to lose between 8kg and 12kg.

It is tough, he says, but manageable. He doesn’t feel that it affects his performance. His faith provides all the push he needs.

It is hard to believe that Carr is just 24. Rugby has both brought him fantastic opportunity and required exceptional emotional adaptability and resilience. His was not the usual path to the high road via a traditional rugby school. He grew up in Mitchell’s Plain.

His family later moved to Crawford and he attended Alexander Sinton High, a good state school but not one that offered rugby. He played on Saturdays for the Primrose club and, at the age of 15, he was spotted by a scout from Bishops and offered a bursary.

Bishops, the home of Anglicanism and old money, was worlds away from what he was used to and at first he struggled to fit in. But over the four years he was there, he learnt to take advantage of the fantastic facilities on offer.

At Alexander Sinton, there would be 45 kids in a class, whereas at Bishops, there might be 10. More than that, he told me, “they opened up my eyes to how successful you could be if you just worked hard”. After school, he sailed into the University of Cape Town, where he played for the Ikey Tigers in the Varsity Cup. From there, he was recruited into the Western Province Under-19s and Under-21s and, eventually the Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams.

Throughout, he has had to perform the difficult balancing act of remaining true to his religious beliefs while proving himself a team player in a very different culture.

At Bishops, he says, he had to explain why he could eat only halaal food. Another challenge he has had to grapple with is the drinking culture in rugby. It was hard at first, he says, and he felt he didn’t fit in. But he learnt to adapt and now happily sits through team dinners nursing a coke while his teammates get merry. He recognises that it is part of team building, he says, and he can’t slink away.

His teammates ensure he doesn’t feel the odd man out. After they won the Currie Cup last year, he took them all to a mosque and then to a halaal restaurant.

What he is desperate for now, like every other player in Super Rugby, is a spot in the Rugby World Cup squad. Carr, who last year became the first Muslim in the democratic era to pull on a Springbok jersey, is competing against a plethora of excellent loose forwards.

Carr’s articulate and confident defence of his religious rights highlights the question of freedom of religion. Christianity is central to South African rugby. Most teams pray before games. Some players and coaches offer a nod to God at media conferences.

Players and coaches have told me that prayers are about asking for protection from injury for both sides. And it promotes team spirit.

That’s all fine as long as it is acknowledged that the supreme being appears in different forms to different people — if they believe in one at all — and conformity to a particular religion doesn’t become a prerequisite for inclusion.

As far as openness in religion goes, I’d say that young Nizaam Carr offers a good example. He doesn’t proselytise but he does try to educate people about Islam: for instance, that the impression created by some media that it is a religion of extremists who yearn to join groups such as Islamic State is wrong.

This year, he and a partner opened a sports academy in Lansdowne. For now, it offers only Grades 8 and 9 and there are just 45 pupils. The academic curriculum runs from 8am to 3pm. After that there is intensive training in rugby, soccer and cricket. He is in charge of the rugby. Talented kids from poor backgrounds get scholarships and his own sponsor provides all the kit for free. It’s about giving back, he says.

His academy, the Cape Sports Academy, is not only for Muslims. “We have boys from all over,” he says proudly. “We have an African kid and a Jewish one.”

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign. Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will […]

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Allister, jou lekker ding

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IT SEEMS pretty certain now that Allister Coetzee will leave the Stormers on a high note, which is excellent news, both for him and for the team he will leave behind. A win against the Lions this weekend will secure the Stormers’ position at the head of the South African conference for the third time in the five years that Coetzee has led the Cape side.

Coetzee jets off to a new coaching job in Japan at the conclusion of the 2015 Super Rugby competition, leaving Western Province in good shape. The Stormers, now second in the overall log, have a shot at a home semifinal. Last Saturday, their Vodacom Cup team made it through to the final after an unbroken nine-game stampede through the pool games. Unfortunately for them, they were pipped to the post by a powerful Pumas team but, nevertheless, it proved that WP has a deep seam of competitive players.

They are also growing able coaches: Vodacom Cup coach, John Dobson, will later this year take over from Coetzee as Currie Cup coach.

Behind the scenes, Western Province director of rugby, Gert Smal, has been quietly putting in place foundations that should ensure solid growth for at least the next few years.

Since he joined Western Province last year, Smal has been on a recruiting drive to increase depth in the junior teams and he has also strengthened the management team. Sports psychologist, Henning Gericke, who accompanied the Proteas to the World Cup earlier this year, is working with all the Western Province teams. The appointment of a kicking coach in Vlok Cilliers is another innovation.

Continuity and institutional memory will be retained through Coetzee’s long-time assistants: backline maestro, Robbie Fleck, and forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot. The unassuming Proudfoot is the power behind the Stormers’ front row, arguably the best in Super Rugby at the moment.

Smal himself brings considerable intellectual capital. The former Springbok flanker was an assistant coach to Jake White from 2003 to 2007, when the Boks won the Rugby World Cup. As assistant coach to Declan Ireland’s Irish team from 2007 to 2013, he gained invaluable international experience and a fresh perspective on the South African rugby environment. The fact that he helped the Irish team take a Six Nations title, a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown didn’t do his reputation any harm.

The question mark hanging over the High Performance Centre in Bellville now is: who will succeed Coetzee as Super Rugby coach?

There are plenty of able and experienced men who would leap at the chance of coaching the Stormers but the shambles at the once proud Sharks shows the perils of jetting in high-profile coaches.

It would reflect well on Western Province’s development structures if they were to choose a home-grown candidate, who has emerged from within their own ranks.

If Dobson does well in the Currie Cup, he will presumably be in the running. Dobson has been with Western Province since 2010. He and his assistant coach, Dawie Snyman, started off with the Under-21s, where there was a focus on bringing through players of colour.

I shadowed the University of Cape Town’s Ikey Tigers through their 2010 Varsity Cup campaign for a book I was writing. Dobson, who holds a BA LLB and an MA in Creative Writing from UCT, was head coach. What struck me was how much thought went into creating a unique culture for the team. They had a theme song called the Poet Warriors. Team talks were infused with poetry and tales of heroism from the First World War.

Being a university team, it was more highbrow than most, but the principle would apply anywhere. Every team needs a story: to cement mutual understanding and strengthen team bonds. You need a narrative to make sense of the vicissitudes of fortune. Someone else has described sports teams as “cauldrons of bubbling emotion”, which seems an accurate description of the devastation that accompanies every loss and the elation of a win.

When it comes to professional rugby, you need a tale to tell the media and the fans. A coach with a facility for words and the ability to spin a convincing yarn has the edge.

The other thing that struck me about Dobson was, after matriculating from Bishops, he spent a year playing for the Elsie’s River club. Mixing with teammates who couldn’t afford proper boots and arrived in a taxi after a night shift at a factory gave him an insight into how most of SA lives.

Western Province is blessed with great diversity among its fan base. Credit then to the coach who makes an attempt to understand the circumstances of players who come from a very different background.

 

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IT SEEMS pretty certain now that Allister Coetzee will leave the Stormers on a high note, which is excellent news, both for him and for the team he will leave behind. A win against the Lions this weekend will secure the Stormers’ position at the head of the South African conference for the third time […]

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Sell Newlands Stadium and buy off the clubs

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WESTERN Province Rugby Football Union released a startling statement a week before Christmas, which, predictably — and possibly, deliberately — was largely ignored because most people were already on holiday.

The union announced that, at a special general meeting held the day before, it had been unanimously decided that they would not, after all, be moving to the Cape Town Stadium.

This came as a surprise, not least to the City of Cape Town, with whom they had long been in negotiations.

As a rugby fan, moving to Cape Town Stadium seemed to me to be a no-brainer. It’s situated in one of the city’s most beautiful neighbourhoods and is easy to get to by public transport. The adjacent Sea Point swimming pool and promenade are a magnet for Capetonians of all races.

The Cape Town Stadium itself is modern, built to the highest international standards. It has the wonderful 5km fan walk from the station, which, as we know from the 2010 Soccer World Cup, not only enhances the pre-game “gees” but also spreads the brand and the game to the general public.

Above all, the stadium is safe. Officials guarantee that, in the event of an emergency, they can evacuate a capacity crowd in less than 10 minutes.

This is important because, at the end of last year, the grace period allowed to stadiums to jack up their safety procedures to comply with the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act of 2010 came to an end.

Newlands Stadium is not compliant. Fans, particularly in some of the higher-level suites, might feel a flicker of anxiety as they navigate the narrow staircases, cluttered with smokers, some of whom drop cigarette butts on the floor. One shudders to think of what might happen if there were a fire and a mass stampede.

Newlands faithful cite its history in its favour. But what about its many years of shameful history when people of colour were penned into segregated stands and teams were all white?

In its shock statement, the union gave as its main reason for deciding to stay at Newlands that it owns the stadium outright and “is therefore in complete control of its own destiny”.

A valid point. But it could also be looked at differently.

The 90-odd clubs which make up the Western Province Rugby Football Union are sitting on a huge asset.

Perhaps it is time for some blue-sky thinking in one of rugby’s most fertile provinces. Why not sell the stadium and its valuable grounds and divide the money among the clubs? In return, they could give up their claims on the professional arm of the union.

The Stormers and Western Province teams could be owned and run as a separate entity (and hopefully the confusing dual titles — Western Province for the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup teams and Stormers for Super Rugby — could be dropped in favour of a single name).

Perhaps a consortium of businessmen could make a bid for the teams. This needn’t be a coldly commercial enterprise. It could be stipulated that the owners are Western Cape-based and that independent directors who are trusted public figures be included on the board.

Why not Brimstone’s Fred Robertson, or Johann Rupert? Perhaps Trevor Manuel could be persuaded to be involved?

The Stormers and Western Province teams already have a separate training base at the High Performance Centre in Bellville. The Cape Town Stadium would become their home ground.

The City of Cape Town is desperate to do a deal with rugby to offset its R40m annual running costs. They’d be easy prey for sharp negotiators, especially if the Cape Town Stadium could boost tourism with high-level international rugby games being regularly held there.

A split between club rugby and professional rugby would be beneficial to both. Western Cape club rugby is thriving: many villages have their own teams and they are an important source of cohesion for their communities. They also throw up gems: such as Gio Aplon, whose home town, Hawston, has a very active club.

But most need funds. A one-off injection, carefully invested, from the proceeds of the sale of the Newlands Stadium would surely be welcome.

Professional rugby in the Western Cape does not achieve anything like its real potential.

Given the talent at its disposal — some 46% of high schools play rugby — it should have a much fuller trophy cabinet than it does.

A fresh approach from new owners with cutting-edge management, financial and negotiating skills could make a world of difference. It would be critical, though, to get the right balance between running rugby as a business and, at the same time, keeping its soul.

The ownership model would need to be thought through and international examples explored.

But I’ve no doubt a model could be found that combined rugby excellence with the more elusive but equally important goal of nation building.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

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WESTERN Province Rugby Football Union released a startling statement a week before Christmas, which, predictably — and possibly, deliberately — was largely ignored because most people were already on holiday. The union announced that, at a special general meeting held the day before, it had been unanimously decided that they would not, after all, be […]

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Amateur administrators are the problem

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April 8 2014 at 03:46pm


CT_oped stormers0INLSATRYING TIMES: The reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log is bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who dont have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world, says the writer

 

Liz McGregor

 

It was odd, last week, to see Western Province president Thelo Wakefield sitting in the seat normally occupied by Stormers captain, Jean de Villiers. In the chair beside Wakefield – the one in which us rugby writers have become used to seeing Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, week after week, was Gert Smal, whom Wakefield was introducing to us as the new director of rugby.

But what was even more disconcerting was the difference in attitude.

After the kind of loss that has devastated the Stormers over the past few weeks, De Villiers, despite a freshly battered body and ego, would have done an immediate mea culpa, an unflinching analysis of his own and his team’s role in their defeat. Allister Coetzee would have done the same. Each would evince an admirable refusal to blame. Responsibility for failure and for the rectification of mistakes would be entirely their own.

Wakefield was the opposite. Despite the fact that he is the big boss – the man ultimately in charge of this team – he showed not a shadow of self-doubt. Proudly introducing his new white knight – Smal – he kept using the word “quality”. We need to surround ourselves with quality people, he announced.

What was he saying? That the coaching team lacked quality and he was now going to save the day by imposing another leader on the pack?

CT_oped wakefield0INLSA

Watching this self-congratulatory display, I thought: this is the reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log: this bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who don’t have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world.

Whenever I raise this issue in Western Province circles, I am told that the problem lies in the fact that it is 91 amateur clubs which govern Western Province rugby. But surely they too must wonder why their elite team persistently fails to reach its potential? And this applies not only to the Stormers.

The Western Cape boasts the richest rugby talent in a well-endowed country. A study by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa shows that 46 percent of rugby-playing high schools are in the Western Cape. It is these schools which produce our rugby players. All the union has to do is recognise this talent and manage it to its full potential.

It is interesting to compare the Western Province Rugby Union with that of the Blue Bulls, who have reinvented themselves and modernised in the two decades of democratic rule – and the advent of professionalism. The reservoir of talent upon which the Bulls can draw is minuscule by comparison with that of WP: only 16 percent of rugby-playing schools are in Gauteng and these schools have to feed both the Lions and the Bulls. Where the Bulls excel is in quality of management. The fact that there are far fewer amateur clubs in the region is a huge advantage. The number of superannuated club presidents clogging up their board does not succeed in inhibiting a dynamic and accountable professional arm.

Each of the Bulls teams – Super Rugby, Currie Cup, under-21 and under-19 – has a phalanx of specialist coaches and fitness and medical staff. They have dedicated scouts who keep databases of every promising schoolboy in the country: they plot his progress over the years and snap up the best.

Management takes responsibility for its appointments and supports its coaching staff, both publicly and privately. Chief executive Barend van Graan resisted the public’s baying for the head of Frans Ludeke in 2008 when he lost his first 14 Super Rugby games after succeeding Heyneke Meyer as head coach. Instead he quietly worked with Ludecke, who went on to vindicate Van Graan’s faith.

The same applies to the Bulls’ management of players. They take promising youngsters and train them up. They look after their most valuable players: an excellent example is how Victor Matfield is being managed. He is not being made to play on tour now – instead he is rested so that he is in peak condition to boost the Springbok squad later this year. Meanwhile, in best Bulls tradition, he is working with young players, passing on his skills.

Western Province are lucky enough to have the Springbok captain in their ranks but they show absolutely no grace or vision in how they manage Jean de Villiers: playing him into the ground without any consideration for his own or the country’s best interests.

One of the most admirable qualities of South African rugby teams is their loyalty. Partly this is because it is enforced by draconian contracts which forbid any public criticism of their bosses.

But mostly it is to do with the dynamic of this ultimate of team sports. The reliance of teammates on each other is absolute – for their lives, ultimately – because rugby players can and do get fatally injured. So it is very rare to hear complaints from either coaches or players. But, such is the level of demoralisation in the Stormers camp at the moment that some of it is leaking out.

Players feel that skimping on medical staff exacerbates the injury crisis.

The same skimping applies to the coaching staff: Coetzee is head coach of Super Rugby and Currie Cup rugby and he has also been responsible for recruitment. There is no specialist kicking coach.

Wakefield’s grandiose unveiling of his newest appointment just when the team for which he is responsible was at their lowest ebb was, I thought, excessively shabby.

Smal may well turn out to be a wonderful addition to the Stormers. But he is just as likely to join the list of talented, dedicated men such as Rassie Erasmus and Nick Mallett who are just too big for the small men who employ them.

l McGregor is author of Touch, Pause, Engage: Exploring the Heart of South African Rugby and, most recently: Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

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April 8 2014 at 03:46pm INLSATRYING TIMES: The reason why the Stormers are at the bottom of the log is bumbling management by unaccountable amateurs who dont have a clue about how to manage some of the finest professional athletes in the world, says the writer   Liz McGregor   It was odd, last week, […]

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We should be playing in Paris, not Perth

News | Non Fiction | South Africa 2 Comments

As our oldest rugby competition, the Currie Cup, reached its climax, tentative steps were being taken towards a brand new one. The broadcast contracts which tie us into the rugby existing menu expire at the end of 2015. A new deal needs to be hammered out, ideally by the end of this year so that work can then start on scheduling early next year.  But it is all still up for grabs, with much furious negotiating under way. One of the options on the table is to renegotiate the deal with our SANZAR partners, Australia and New Zealand. The other is to look north instead where English and French clubs are breaking away to launch a new pan-European championship and would love to add South African teams to the mix.

The advantage of sticking with SANZAR is that it is a known quantity:  we know all the teams involved and what to expect. And it undoubtedly sharpens our skills to play regularly against the world’s top players.

The list of cons is much longer. First is unfairness: South Africa contributes 68% of TV viewers but the vote is split three ways, exacerbated by the fact that Australia and New Zealand tend to gang up together. An example is the whopping great fine – R235,000 – imposed on the Stormers  earlier this year when some of their team members allegedly dissed the ref.  Graham Henry goes on to publicly and indisputably criticize refs and TMOs not once but twice and gets off scot-free.

CEOs of Super Rugby franchises here talk about the additional travel burden imposed on South African teams – the 5-week long tours, 17-hour flights and debilitating jetlag.   TV scheduling suffers from the extreme time difference: how many people can watch a game at 9.35 on a Friday morning? Players hate the protracted Super Rugby schedule, which now drags on from February through to August, interrupted by the June Test window.

Flights are not only very long but also expensive which inhibits the number of travelling fans, as does the limited charms of New Zealand and Australia. A once in a lifetime visit to each is quite enough.

Above all, though, there is a feeling that we need something fresh. The Rugby Championships must stay so that we get to pit our wits against the All Blacks and the Wallabies twice a year but Super Rugby has had its day.

 

Seismic shifts in European rugby have opened up new horizons.  French and English clubs, which operate their own independent domestic leagues, have announced their intention to quit the Heineken Cup because they feel they are disadvantaged by the distribution of tournament revenues and the qualification process.

From next year, England’s Premiership Rugby and France’s Ligue Nationale de Rugby plan to create a new tournament called the Rugby Champions Cup. They would like clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales to join.

And they are particularly keen on South African franchises becoming part of the competition in 2016, when they are free to do so.

The challenges in taking the northern option are sizeable: any new competition would mean getting our heads around a different rugby season. The competition might well have to be played over December and January so as not to clash with the Six Nations.  Qualification to take part might also be an issue: would such a competition be able to accommodate all six of our franchises, given that the Southern Kings must now be included?

But the advantages are numerous: overnight flights for players so that they could nip over for a weekend for games.  Similar time zones mean no jet lag and optimum TV viewing times for all parties.

And, potentially a lot more money.  Now, SuperSport here; Fox in Australia and Sky in New Zealand enjoy monopolies: rugby must take what it is offered.  In Europe,  it is far more competitive,  with a much bigger pool of broadcasters competing for rights, which will inevitably drive up revenue.  Much richer economies should yield more generous sponsorship fees.

Cheaper, shorter flights and closer cultural ties might well swell the ranks of travelling fans.  Not to mention the many South African players now playing for French and English clubs, another major plus.

And it is new and different, which makes it exciting: imagine the Bulls squaring up to their old team-mate, Bakkies Botha, at Toulon?  The Stormers taking on Bath, whose captain is their old team-mate, Francois Louw?  The Sharks against Clermont? The chance to share new experiences – of different approaches to the game and different team cultures?  And how much more interesting to go regularly  to Paris, London or Toulon, after years and years of Auckland and Sydney?

It seems to me a no-brainer, all things being equal.

 

**This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As our oldest rugby competition, the Currie Cup, reached its climax, tentative steps were being taken towards a brand new one. The broadcast contracts which tie us into the rugby existing menu expire at the end of 2015. A new deal needs to be hammered out, ideally by the end of this year so that […]

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