Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Super Rugby again sacrificed


There are multiple scenarios being explored as to how the future of Super Rugby will look in 2016.

The final details right now don't seem so important - what matters is that the integrity of the competition is restored because, frankly, Super Rugby feels a bit like one giant filling in time exercise until the test season is upon us.

The French worry endlessly about their domestic competition where there are often weekends without a single eligible Frenchman wearing the No 10 jersey at any of the 14 clubs. People here shake their heads, a little thankful such nonsense doesn't happen here.

But the purity of Super Rugby is equally compromised - it's just a bit more subtle. Or maybe it's not that subtle - certainly Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder may wonder what obstacle will next be set in his way.

The New Zealand Rugby Union made his rookie season in 2009 way tougher than it needed to be by granting Daniel Carter his first six month sabbatical.

Nature in all its glory made the 2011 season next to impossible; this year the handicap was to play without Richie McCaw and then endure the stress of having him to welcome back in the finals.

Next year he'll be without Carter again who has confirmed he'll be resting his battered body for another six months.

Throw in the fact that the bulk of his All Blacks meandered through the first half of the season - partly because they are denied a proper pre-season; partly because they consciously pace themselves knowing what lies ahead and partly because these days anyone with 20 caps or so doesn't play their way in or out of the All Blacks on the basis of their Super Rugby form.

Blackadder would be within his rights to wonder whether the time has come for test football to take some pain: if players need extended breaks - and there is no dispute that many do - why don't more get pushed down the Conrad Smith route of skipping end of season tours instead of Super Rugby.

It's always Super Rugby that has to be sacrificed - not only with top players being sanctioned to skip it, but with the ridiculous three-week break for the June tests.

If the competition wants to build its revenue and standing post-2015 then it has to give the impression it's viewed as a bit more important than it currently is. It's all well and good saying Carter's absence next year will provide an opportunity for a new player - maybe Tyler Bleyendaal or Colin Slade.

But while that's lovely for them, it would be better for everyone else if a fully fit Carter was in the No 10 jersey. It would be better for Bleyendaal if he was wearing the No 10 jersey because he had earned it ahead of Carter.

The ITM Cup is all about development - Super Rugby should be all about the best playing the best.

The Crusaders will start next year with one leg metaphorically in a cast - they won't make excuses but everyone can see they will have one.

- Herald on Sunday

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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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