Super Rugby's issues were laid bare last weekend when crowds across three countries gave the distinct impression that this competition is no longer a premier event.

From Christchurch to Canberra and Johannesburg, three of the four quarterfinals featured underwhelming turnouts.

The Stormers and Chiefs match in Cape Town pulled the most punters with around 27,500 rocking up to Newlands; a stadium which will be expected to hold over 51,000 for the All Blacks later this year.

Fans in Christchurch at least had an excuse. The Crusaders sold 15,500 tickets - more than 5,000 shy of capacity - but 11,000 braved the dire weather after a state of emergency had been declared in some parts of the city. Even the big screen television was pulled down for safety reasons.


Those in Canberra, where it is believed a pitiful 9,000 watched the Brumbies collapse in the second half against the Hurricanes, had no such excuse. Here the plight of Australian rugby was there for all to see.

On a typically cold winter night in the Australian capital, many locals simply stayed away because they didn't believe the Brumbies could win. The sight of near-empty stands should have shaken organisers to their core. For a game of this importance, it was embarrassing.

And while there was a decent crowd (around 26,000) in Johannesburg as the Lions snuck past the Sharks, Ellis Park was still well under half full (61,000 capacity) despite being baked in sun.

Sanzaar officials are not commenting on anything at present - not until arbitration between the Australian Rugby Union and the Western Force is complete. Only then will anyone know what next year's competition will look like.

For now, this is supposed to be Super Rugby's pinnacle, when attention is fixated and the product compels punters to attend.

Instead, a combination of the June test break, the convoluted format and continued uncertainty around the future appears to be creating a general apathy.

Jeff Wilson went as far to suggest the Highlanders-Crusaders match should have been postponed, such were the terrible conditions. Naturally, Wilson probably favours his former team but, logistical nightmare or otherwise, he is also not far wrong.

Rugby is a game that must be played in all conditions but in this modern age where we pander to the broadcaster's deep pockets there seems little or no regard given to spectators.


There is more choice in the market, and for the vast majority of families less and less disposable cash than ever. Yet they are the ones constantly asked to sacrifice.

Getting punters through the gates, particularly come finals time when interest should seemingly be at its peak, can also be the difference financially between make or break campaigns.

In this regard just ask provincial unions how hard their collective task is. It gets harder every year.

Super Rugby in New Zealand could benefit greatly from more/any afternoon kickoffs. But that doesn't suit the overseas market or those at home on their recliners so the notion is dismissed as soon as it is raised.

Rugby is not living in a silo when it comes to poor crowds. League is battling. So, too, is test cricket and many other sports abroad.

Usually, though, finals time is the exception. Super Rugby is attempting to prove otherwise.

In the short term, Super Rugby's other ticking time bomb is their disregard of neutral officials.

In the Chiefs quarterfinal, all four officials were South African. In Canberra, New Zealand's Glenn Jackson had the whistle.

Earlier this year the Blues were dudded by several calls in Cape Town, one of which saw Shaun Treeby escape on-field sanction for knocking out Blues first five-eighth Piers Francis, only to later cop a four-week suspension.

Once again, four South African officials.

Sanzaar's reasoning for not having neutral referees? Cost.

As the TMO's influence reaches overbearing levels, and with fans at tipping point, the last thing Super Rugby needs is a major call leaving the door open to the perception of injustice.

Super Rugby quarterfinal crowds:

Stormers Chiefs 27,000
Brumbies Hurricanes 9,000
Crusaders Highlanders 11,000
Lions Sharks 26,000