Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Super Rugby's horribly quick fall from grace

Australian teams like the Waratahs have regressed since winning the title. Photo / Getty
Australian teams like the Waratahs have regressed since winning the title. Photo / Getty

It's surprising enough that Super Rugby has fallen apart. But what's hard to fathom is the speed at which it went from being the world's premier club competition to virtual basket case.

In 2014 the Waratahs won the title and a trip to Sydney and Canberra was a treacherous business for all teams. Even the Force, Rebels and Reds could be relied upon to fire up at least a few times a season and knock off the odd big scalp.

It wasn't so different in Africa. When Kiwi teams headed there it was more in hope than expectation. Beating the Bulls in Pretoria was a big deal and a one win-one-loss return from a venture to the Republic would keep New Zealand coaches.

But here we are now, three years on and the landscape could hardly be different. In 14 games against New Zealand opposition this year, Australian teams haven't won once.

That's following on from last year when they only managed three wins in 26 games.

When the Waratahs were celebrating their maiden Super Rugby title just three years ago, who could have forecast that the collapse of Australian rugby would be so quick and so dramatic?

That's what has caught Sanzaar out. Their big vision for an 18-team tournament never imagined that in just two years, Australia, a foundation partner and such a vital component of the fabric, would unravel the way they have?

Where once Australian players were setting standards with their basic skill execution, now they look to be light years behind.

Watch any Australian team play and their lack of individual and collective skill and ingenuity is a travesty that speaks volumes about their coaching fraternity, development pathways and creaking grassroots infrastructure.

Take Israel Folau as the most illustrative example of how far and fast Australian rugby has lost its way. When he converted to rugby in 2013 he had everyone terrified about how good he was going to be: how good the Wallabies were going to be because also coming through were Michael Hooper, Will Skelton, Tevita Kuridrani and Will Genia.

The big push never came and instead all of these players have stagnated or regressed - much like every aspect of Australian rugby.

Their playing numbers are not growing. They haven't diminished as fast as a recent report suggested but they are falling and there is no way the Australian Rugby Union can pretend that they are capturing enough hearts and minds of primary-aged children across the country.

They enjoy the odd win here and there but more and more rugby is losing out to league, AFL and football when it comes to participation.

No one was predicting this demise three years ago. No one was fearful that Australian rugby was actually on the brink of disaster.

It's no different in South Africa who were campaigning for a sixth team at the same time the Waratahs were winning the title.

The South African economy was trudging along, seemingly in no imminent danger and the game was beginning to take hold in areas and with parts of the populace that had previously shunned it.

But the picture changed almost overnight. The economy went South, the Rand collapsed and the increased desire to push through transition policies all combined to send senior Springboks and many others into the arms of French and Japanese clubs.

One minute a trip to South Africa was the toughest gig in Super Rugby the next, even the Blues were grumpy if they didn't come home with maximum points.

The collapse of Super Rugby has happened frighteningly quickly and if there is a salient lesson from this, it is that money does not protect against mediocrity.

The current broadcast deal has flooded Super Rugby with more money that it has ever had and yet the basic business of pass and catch appears to be beyond both the skills and imagination of many players.

The other thing that will become clear is that rebuilding the game in Australia and South Africa will not happen anywhere near as quickly as its collapse.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 30 May 2017 04:12:49 Processing Time: 535ms