Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Super Rugby is damaging the game down under

The architects of Super Rugby expansion can keep denying the damage they have caused, but the results from the first June tests provide more reasons to believe the Southern Hemisphere is driving itself towards mediocrity.

It was a weekend of compelling contests - drama, tension and a little bit of spite. High scores in Auckland, Brisbane and Cape Town alluded to the ambition, adventure and ability of all six teams. It was the best from the South versus the best in the North and the latter came out on top in two and played particularly well in the third.

Given where England, Ireland and Wales were in performance-terms at the World Cup, they have to be recognised for putting their respective houses in better order.

All three have improved. They were more alert to opportunity, clinical when they had to be and rock solid at set-piece and collision.

Australia, on the other hand, looked to be a reflection of their franchises' Super Rugby form.

Their scrum didn't hold up and much of their pass and catch was decidedly wild when players were put under pressure. Early days to be panicking maybe because the Wallabies and Springboks - much like the All Blacks - were victims of inevitable first game rust.

"I don't think people understand how hard it is to bring a group of people together from five different franchises and get them thinking on the same plain," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in defence of the Southern Hemisphere teams. "It doesn't happen just like that and when you get a team that comes well prepared like Ireland, England and Wales obviously have it's a difficult assignment. That first test is always a tough one but what happens next will be interesting to watch."

But to explain the events in Brisbane solely as a resurrection would be a tragedy of analysis. England may have risen from the ashes to some extent, but the Wallabies were poor and inaccurate in so many areas that some caution should be applied before seeing it simply as a slow start.

They will be better this week having now played and while they unquestionably have a handful of great players, it's not ridiculous to believe that spreading their talent so thin across five teams is having an impact.

Bad habits are perhaps being instilled and the effects of leaving good players in mediocre environments is that they lose their edge. They get dragged down and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika faces an unusually tough battle to rebuild and reset standards. They are a quality side, or at least they should be.

The situation in South Africa is much the same - exacerbated by the desire to implement transition policies. It is surely not coincidental in the year Super Rugby expands and the quality of Super Rugby out of South Africa and Australia has been questionable, both the Springboks and Wallabies lose their opening tests?

It's increasingly hard not to feel that Sanzar's greed is killing creativity. They are chasing money as if it is a panacea to all playing problems and yet the truth appears to be starkly different.

The Western Force going bust was one major warning sign that all is not well with Super Rugby - test defeats for the Springboks and Wallabies are another.

- NZ Herald

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