Christian Cullen: New Super Rugby format is a shambles

By Christian Cullen

Joe Wheeler of the Highanders looks dejected during the round one Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.
Joe Wheeler of the Highanders looks dejected during the round one Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.

There is so much I'm looking forward to with this rugby season but I still can't work out why Super Rugby has expanded - again.

I admit I'm old school and liked it when you played every team once and you knew where you stood at the end of a season. But this year's competition is a confusing, watered-down version of what we had before.

I'm confused about how the competition works, and following rugby is part of my job, and the players are confused - some have said they don't get it and will simply turn up to training each week and find out from the coaches what they need to do - so I would hate to think what Joe Public thinks of it all.

How can a team who finish fifth on a combined table miss out on the playoffs when eight teams qualify? Maybe I've got it wrong but that's the problem. It's difficult to understand.
I also worry about the quality of some teams.

Depth has been diluted in the Republic. South African teams were already struggling, even good teams like the Bulls who have won it three times, and they went and added a sixth team.

And how about the Japanese side? It doesn't look like they have the depth to be competitive and what does it say about the competition if they're beaten by 70-odd points most weeks? It doesn't make sense.

I'm glad they haven't talked about expanding in New Zealand because five teams is perfect right now because adding a sixth would only dilute the product here.

If they were to add another side, and competitions seem to love to expand, I would want to see that team come from the Pacific Islands. Samoa coach Alama Ieremia wants to see it happen and even a combined Pacific Islands team could work.

After all, the All Blacks are made up of players with Maori, European, Samoan and Fijian heritage and they go pretty well. I guess, though, it all comes down to money and a Pacific team doesn't offer enough on that front.

For all the confusion and uncertainty of this year's competition, there is still so much to look forward to for New Zealand rugby fans.

Most years you have a feeling around what the All Blacks side will look like but this year everything is up for grabs with so many players having retired or moved on.

I'm really excited to see who emerges as the top first five-eighths in the country to take over from Dan Carter and it's the same in the midfield following the departures of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. Can Nehe Milner-Skudder kick on from last year? Can Waisake Naholo recapture his form after his injury and disappointing World Cup campaign? Can the Blues become a force again. And can the Hurricanes finally win a title?

Winning the Super Rugby competition is a marathon, not a sprint, so we won't really know which teams are looking good until after about the first month. Durability and depth will be tested so much that it takes only three or four injuries to key players to derail a campaign.

It's about getting through the competition and then performing when you really need to.
The Highlanders and Hurricanes did that so well last year and there's no reason why they can't do it again, even after their opening-round defeats.

- Herald on Sunday

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