Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Super Rugby all style, no substance

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Super Rugby Players during today's launch of the 2016 New Zealand Super Rugby season in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Super Rugby Players during today's launch of the 2016 New Zealand Super Rugby season in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

A chronically painful launch for what looms as a chronically bad competition - Super Rugby should be commended for at least setting out as it means to go on.

With the revamped competition due to kick off next Friday, New Zealand Rugby and Sanzar are frantically trying to persuade sceptics that bigger is better and the decision to expand to 18 teams will make sense when the season is in full swing.

Today's official launch was genius in it's ability to create a distraction to stop everyone staring at the elephant in the room. It was not so much fiddling as Rome burns as jiggling while Rome burns.

Pertinent questions about the lack of readiness of the Sunwolves; the financial plight of the Kings and the befuddling new format could all be blissfully ignored as the launch featured dancing girls, radio celebrities and slightly bemused players whose collective relief was palpable when they were allowed to get off the stage after having predictably been used as performing monkeys.

What better metaphor for the competition than a classic triumph for style over substance? Of course, it's exactly this type of cynicism that NZR and Sanzar are trying to put a lid on by patiently explaining to misguided souls who like football competitions to be competitive, enduring and meaningful that this tried and trusted formula will be the death of the game.

We have to understand, say the champions of expansion, that if Super Rugby didn't take itself off to far-flung corners then it wouldn't be good news for the game in New Zealand. What chance of winning new fans in Hamilton if the Chiefs didn't traipse to Port Elizabeth to play a randomly-put-together group of nobodies in the middle of the night?

Anyone clinging to old school ideas like simple round-robins confined only to teams that are actually up to it will drag rugby under, warn those who have driven change.

NZR and Sanzar have kindly spared us the finer details supporting this argument and instead urged everyone to just take it from them - that the alternative to not expanding was Super Rugby collapsing and, in no time at all, the All Blacks losing to the likes of Georgia and Italy.

The new thinking is way smarter and cutting edge and is built on the undeniable truth that a competition should be judged by the size of its carbon footprint. More travel means Super Rugby has stuck a flag in more countries and that means they have access to more money and more money means it must be better.

There is also, so the architects of this new competition say, a moral obligation to spread rugby to new markets. According to Sanzar chief executive Andy Marinos, Super Rugby had no choice but to ride to the rescue of Japan because, other than its massively-lucrative, well-established Top League which is backed to the hilt by some of the biggest corporations in the world and capable of attracting quality players and coaches from around the globe, what else does it have?

Maybe if the music is loud and everyone keeps dancing, no one will notice a competition that once had everything now has almost nothing.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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