Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Saru's sour grapes worth chewing over

Photo / Rod Emmerson
Photo / Rod Emmerson

Yawn, Yawn. Here we go again. The world is against South African rugby - and they are going to stamp their foot very loudly.

"If you don't show us enough love we're going to run off and join the circus," is the general drift from the mighty world champs.

The financial heavyweights of the Sanzar agreement have had enough, and will deign to consider joining European rugby, even though European rugby hasn't actually invited them in.

"And then you'll be sorry," you can almost hear the South Africans saying to those nasty Kiwis and Ockers. "You'll miss us. You will." Then again ...

Out of the mouths of babes come some very good ideas which is how New Zealand might look at the latest piece of South African cot rattling.

What brought all this on?

South Africa is miffed about referees, yellow cards, judicial hearings and an inquiry ordered into comments by their coach Peter de Villiers.

So with the ink barely dry on a multimillion-dollar contract extension that deserves far more respect from the signatories than South Africa is showing, the world champs are prepared to drown the whole deal in hasty tears.

But wait, there is more.

Having hurled toys towards the heavens, Saru scampered about trying to catch them before they hit the floor.

While chairman Jan Marais had said Saru would consider quitting the Super 15 and Tri-Nations when the new broadcast contract ended in 2015, president Oregan Hoskins smoothed the waters saying this was merely a spat between friends.

News Corp, the broadcasters, must wonder what the hell they are dealing with sometimes.

Putting aside the issue of money, which is a very big issue, South Africa's tantrum should at least inspire a bit of debate.

While not an offer too good to refuse, this does rank as one worth considering.

Scrapping the Super 15 and creating an Australasian competition, with a dozen or so New Zealand sides involved, would restore the mana of our own provincial game, something that many people hanker for.

The excitement around Northland's remarkable demolition of Manawatu on Sunday was another indication that there is life in the old traditions yet.

You could argue that the players and public just don't need the Super any more.

There are so many test matches these days that this takes care of the leading players' international ambitions. My impression is that the public is tired of the Super competition, which has diluted and even eliminated many of the provincial rivalries which stir the blood.

There are a lot of empty seats at stadiums during the Super 14, and far less interest, hype and talk around it compared to the early days when the Super 12 was shiny and new.

Our national competition struggles to fill the void though. The ITM Cup is spirited but there are insurmountable obstacles in restoring the old battler to former glories.

With leading players absent for many of the matches, the ITM Cup feels like a tool of the national selectors, not fully representative of the actual provinces.

Yet the feeling around the ITM Cup games is often more genuine and vibrant than what we have seen of late at Super level, and reaches far more nooks and crannies than the big-city Sanzar competition.

The Super 14, soon to become the Super 15, is tolerated rather than celebrated by a large chunk of the sports public. Playing so many games halfway around the world, in the wee hours, means a lot of the competition is virtually ignored. The finals series is too short, and is a non-event for supporters whose teams are out of the playoff picture. The final itself is virtually ignored by the countries who aren't involved.

An Australasian competition might not be perfect, especially if Australia remains too weak, but our own provincial rivalries would still largely be restored because more provinces - with real identities - would be included. A decent finals system would build new traditions around cut-throat matches, with the transtasman rivalry adding another element.

Imagine a competition with five Australian teams plus Northland, Auckland, Counties-Manukau, Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Southland, completed by a top six or top eight finals series.

There would be additional benefits and especially a shorter rugby season, which would give players a proper off-season and reduce the horrendous travel schedule which currently involves repeat flights to and from South Africa.

There are bugbears of course. At the moment, Australia is a ball and chain, and the Wobblies need to pick up their performances at provincial and test level.

And then there is the biggie. Without the current Sanzar agreement, the New Zealand Rugby Union could/would struggle to generate money to keep the top players. South Africa, which is in the same time zone as Europe, draws in a lot of the broadcast contract money.

Breaking up Sanzar would require a re-working of the international programme. But that has already received a makeover with Argentina about to join the Southern Hemisphere test competition.

It would be interesting to know the financial projections, and get a feel for the national mood.

Maybe there is more support for the Super competition than I imagine, and years of failure from the Blues may have given this Aucklander a jaundiced view of the current system.

Will there be a change? Not likely, unless South Africa actually walks the talk.

For a start, the financial risks are probably too high.

But those dinosaurs amongst us who see the Super competition as a contrived competition which lacks heart and soul can dream a little of a brave new world based on the old world.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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