Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: The mismanaged nightmare Super Rugby has become

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Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Remember Super Rugby? The Southern Hemisphere's premier rugby competition kicks off in less than a month and the silence from the organisers, Sanzar, has been deafening as the clock clicks down to a tournament that will have new teams, a new format and new laws.

It's a massive concern for - to use a piece of corporate jargon that has become increasingly prevalent in professional rugby - this particular stakeholder. Todd Blackadder and Dave Rennie, respective coaches of the Crusaders and Chiefs, have already gone on record this year as saying they were shocked and disappointed to learn there would be a new bonus point rule only weeks out from the start of the competition.

They were informed, without consultation, by email, after already setting out their game plans for the season to their players.

What's going on? Who would know. New Sanzar chief executive Andy Marinos wasn't available for the Weekend Herald to interview this week and as far as I can make out hasn't given one since late November.

Let's start by saying one of the feel-good rugby stories from last year came in Super Rugby, when the Highlanders, that rag-tag bag of overachievers combined with the excellent Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga (among others) to win their first title by coming from behind to beat the Hurricanes in Wellington.

It was a brilliant final, in the last year of the 15-team format, but nothing was done to capitalise on it.

This year, there will be 18 teams (including additions the Kings from South Africa, Sunwolves from Japan, and Argentina's Jaguares) in four conferences, grouped into two regional groups. That's as much detail as I'm prepared to go into here because of space restrictions, but, needless to say, at least one South African team will be guaranteed a place in the play-offs. The Kings, Sunwolves and Jaguares are in the South African conferences, which will again be by far the weakest.

The new format will probably become easier to understand after the thing kicks off on Friday, February 26, when the Blues take on the Highlanders at Eden Park, but nothing has been done to sell the idea or pique the interest of even the most fanatical of rugby supporters.

It's little wonder former Wallabies wing David Campese was moved to say: "Realistically, it's just going to be an absolute nightmare. There doesn't seem to be any thought going into the players' welfare about the travelling. No one seems to know. It's an absolute mess."

Privately, at least one New Zealand Super Rugby coach is also worried, concerns likely to be shared by his counterparts. He believes the conference system is uneven and flawed and wonders why the new bonus point system (teams get a point for scoring three more tries than the opposition) - taken from a French league which is seen as inferior to Super Rugby - was installed at such a late date.

He believed there is a real danger fans, sponsors and the media will be turned off the competition with the result seen in ever-decreasing crowds.

"How are the law changes going to help our game?" he wondered.

Good question.

- NZ Herald

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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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