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Arlecchino

Super Rugby Under the Microscope

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I apologise in advance, this is a long read but is a different perspective although quite a lot of the feelings are common to our thinking and expression as I am sure a few will want to point out. Nevertheless this comes from Alec Hogg who writes in BizNews.

Some of this makes perfectly good sense but some of it is really naive in that sport is controlled by the government through its proxy SASCOC. Jake White will never be considered and he is earning way too much money in Europe to come back to this viper's nest. Yes he may leave his current club but to come back to being told how the game must be played by Mark Alexander?

Anyhow here is the latest "fresh viewpoint":

"Confused?

I am!

Rugby administrators confuse me. Rugby coaches confuse me, and rugby players confuse me.

When simple logic suggests a particular course of action as being in the best interests of the game and of all concerned, the rugby administrator is sure to head off in the diametrically opposite direction.

Witness the current Super Rugby competition played in the (mostly) southern hemisphere. If ever there was a competition that is seriously flawed, it is Super Rugby in its current format. Quite simply: too many teams; too many fixtures; too much travelling; too many strange rules; and a very strange conference system. All have contributed to a competition that has lost its gloss. From being at the very cutting edge of rugby development, a superior competition that pitted the very best against the very best, Super Rugby has regressed to a hopeless mish-mash of good and bad; mostly poor rugby has become the mainstay of most of the competition, with some glimmers of hope when the really top teams clash. Super Rugby has lost it’s edge, both as a rugby competition and as a breeding ground for superior rugby.

The fans have voted with their feet, they have stayed away from Super Rugby stadia in their droves. Empty seats and echoingly empty galleries, even the private suites were locked and curtains drawn were evidence of Super Rugby’s failure to attract an audience. Television viewership figures in the three primary countries, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia are down, and continue to drop.

The competition features far too many teams of mediocre quality, from South Africa’s woeful Kings and the constantly struggling Cheetahs to Australia’s Western Force and Reds. The Sunwolves from that other “southern hemisphere” powerhouse, Japan, and then there are the wayward Jaguares from Argentina. Yes, each of these teams might produce a performance that scares one of the bigger teams from time to time, but most of their games have been forgettable at best and embarrassing at worst. They simply do not belong amongst the top tier teams of Super Rugby.

The inclusion of the mediocre has resulted in an overly long and congested fixture list with far too many ho-hum games of little or no consequence. Who in their right mind wants to watch the Western Force play the Kings? Who wants to watch the Lions play the Sunwolves twice in one season?

Who wants to watch the Kings get thumped, week after week, after week. Certainly not the rugby starved public of the Eastern Cape, they avoided the ignominy of being seen in the stadium when their team took the field. Sometimes the security guards outnumbered the spectators.

And then we have the very strange conference structure and a fixture list that sees some of the supposedly top teams never play against teams from one or another of the other conferences. Witness the Stormers going through the whole of 2016 without meeting a single team from New Zealand until the playoffs, yet they had to play the Sunwolves, the Jaguares, and the Kings twice each.

And then we turn to the issue of excessive travelling. Last year the New Zealanders finally learned about the transcontinental travel that the South African teams have complained about for years. The Chiefs had to complete a fixture at home on the first Saturday, then travel from New Zealand to South Africa, play the Kings in Port Elizabeth on the following Saturday evening, leave town at 03h00 the next morning to catch a flight to Johannesburg, transit to yet another flight across the Atlantic to the Argentine, transit for yet another internal flight in order to play the Jaguares on the third Saturday, before heading across the Pacific back to New Zealand for another fixture the next weekend. They had circumnavigated the world in three weeks, and were not happy at all!  Then it all happened again, the Chiefs, the Crusaders and the Highlanders all had to play their quarter-finals away from home this year! What a travesty!

Jeff Wilson, usually a very well informed and thoughtful commentator on the game suggested that it was easier for South African teams to travel, “because they are used to it” – one of the more mindless statements I have ever heard. The Crusaders complained about being left “stranded” in Christchurch for two days waiting for flights to South Africa. Nothing about the Sharks being stranded on their way to play in New Zealand! Let us not talk about the horrific transcontinental, trans-equatorial and trans-time zonal travel schedules South African teams, or the Jaguares, or the Sunwolves have had to deal with as they spent more time in aircraft than they do on a rugby field.

Suffice to say that the travel schedules required of some, but not all Super Rugby teams are simply stupid, and the congestion in the fixture list compounds the problem by forcing teams to play game after game without sufficient time to recover, to overcome travel fatigue and jet-lag. There is no doubt that the quality of rugby suffers, and that players are far more injury prone when subjected to such stupid demands.

We then turn to some of the stupid rules that govern Super Rugby. The requirement that a player must participate in a predetermined number of regular season games before he may participate in the playoff rounds was exposed for it’s mindless stupidity on a number of occasions. Take the case of Pat Lambie, a member of the Sharks squad for the entire Super Rugby season and nominated as club captain for the year.  Pat was injured while on international duty and his rehabilitation period was extended for medical reasons. When the playoff rounds approached and the Sharks qualified for a quarterfinal berth, Pat Lambie was denied selection for the Sharks as he had not played sufficient regular season games for the Sharks. The fact that he was on the squad list from day one and was injured during the season made no difference to the jobsworths that run Super Rugby. He was not alone, players who had represented New Zealand in the World Rugby Sevens tournament were precluded from Super Rugby playoff slots for the same reason!

And then there is the qualification process for spots in the quarterfinals of Super Rugby. Somehow each of the four conference winners automatically qualify for a home quarterfinal, despite their points aggregate for the regular season being way below the top four in the overall competition. Somehow wildcard teams from Australia and South Africa could progress to the quarterfinals despite their lowly position on the overall log. It simply makes no logical sense whatsoever.

It all a confusing mess.

It does not have to be a mess. SANZAAR have had ample opportunity to fix the mess. Just a couple of weeks ago they had a two-day meeting to consider the issues and problems surrounding the Super Rugby competition. They listened to reports, presentations and appeals by all kinds of interested parties, from the TV broadcasters to the franchises who compete in the competition. They heard from coaches and player representatives. They heard from administrators and union presidents. They even paid some consultants lots of money to come and tell them about the issues and problems of Super Rugby.

And then, somehow, they chose to do nothing! The confused and unpopular 18-team four-conference fixture congested travelling nightmare mediocrity of 2016 will be repeated in 2017.

And nobody can tell us why………….

Not that there were not some wise heads at the SANZAAR meeting. There were plenty of people who called for changes to be made as quickly as possible. Representatives from New Zealand’s union and from their franchises tried very hard, and failed, to change next year's Super Rugby format. They were outvoted by the vested interests of Australia and South Africa.

Not that the New Zealanders were in a completely charitable mood when they went to the meeting either, they wanted the introduction of a straight top eight quarterfinal lineup next year – where the four teams with the most points, regardless of where they are based, would host the quarter-finals. In 2016 it would have been almost an all-New Zealand affair, with just the South African Lions getting home advantage outside of New Zealand. If the change was made it would give the New Zealanders a very strong probability of hosting as many as all four quarterfinals in 2017 and beyond. Four home-quarterfinals would be potentially lucrative opportunities to replenish the somewhat empty coffers of the various rugby bodies in New Zealand.

Whilst I am full agreement with the New Zealanders that the complexity of the conference system causes confusion for most people, I am also not sure that New Zealand should be the only country to benefit from hosting a quarterfinal. There has to be a solution that gives a game to Australia and to South Africa. Much of Super Rugby’s ongoing funding flows from South African sources, and it would be slightly macabre if South Africa should be keeping New Zealand rugby afloat to the detriment of the game back home!

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind, save for a few blazer-wearing administrators in the employ of SANZAAR, who believe that Super Rugby is a superlative competition anymore.

Yet, they do nothing!

Continuing on the subject of New Zealand and their attempt to gain some financial advantage from hosting all four Super Rugby quarterfinals, it does seem that they are fairly desperate to find additional sources of income to bolster their somewhat constrained coffers. While they were arguing (correctly) that Super Rugby is in need of serious reconsideration and changes, which would include the likelihood of their hosting all four quarterfinals, both semifinals, and the final, they have also been attempting to cash in on some form of appearance money whenever their mighty All Blacks play away from home!

Most recently they approached the England Rugby Football Union to ask for a share of the gate revenues whenever the All Blacks play at Twickenham! They are banking on the “market value” of the All Blacks as a commercial product. There is talk of a match fee of up to £3 million if you want the All Blacks to play in your stadium.

This is an extraordinary request! It has long been the practice that the hosting union and, specifically, the club or province that own a stadium, gain the financial advantage (if any) of hosting games by visiting teams. When the British Lions visit Australia, the Australian Rugby Union banks the profits, if they visit New Zealand, or South Africa, the same benefit accrues to the country they are visiting.

The converse is also true, if a visiting team does not attract a large and, hopefully profitable crowd, then the hosting union takes the financial knock and gets on with the game.

Now the All Blacks want a share of the profits when they play away from home! The very first question must be asked, will they contribute to the cost of hosting the game if a venue runs at a loss? The next question must be: Will they share any profits from the incoming 2017 British & Irish Lions?

Not that the Australians have been far behind the New Zealanders and their request for a share of the money. The Aussies have long hammered on about the “unfairness” of it all when they play in jam-packed stadiums in Europe, yet their own stadiums are often visibly empty when they host the likes of the four Home Unions, or France. They would also like a share of that pie.

Suffice to say that the England RFU were very quick to reject the New Zealanders request.

Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, emphatically rejected the request that those Twickenham match revenues should be shared with either of the Antipodean opponents, suggesting that they should "go build a stadium" if they want to improve their finances.

"Of course they say they want more money, but there is nothing to stop Australia or New Zealand building a stadium," said Ritchie. "Go build a stadium if you want to increase your revenue growth. We have all been through it here in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and ourselves, incurring debt on stadium-build in order to reap the benefits. We didn't get anything out of going to Australia in June. And ditto from the Lions. I can't see the case for arguing the other way.”

From my own perspective, it does seem that SANZAAR’s focus on rugby as a “marketable product” and all the talk of selling their “product” to the world at large has rubbed off on the All Blacks and, to a lesser extent, the Wallabies, both now considering themselves as a “product” with commercial value that should be exploited. The only problem is, gee whizz, they only seem to generate profits when they play away from home……..

There is a message in there for the New Zealanders and the Australians.

Moving on to some of the other moments of confusion that I mentioned right at the beginning of this missive.

Coaches confuse me!

Or at least, sometimes it is the coaches and sometimes it is the club or union that employs those coaches that give rise to my confusion.

Just in the last week we have seen another round of coaching mysteries make headlines.

Alan Zondagh resigned from his job coaching the Boland rugby team, saying that he was tired of the constant meddling of the union’s administrators. They apparently had much to say about team selections, game strategies and coaching methods, practices, and functions. This constant niggling eventually got too much for Zondagh, who called it quits despite having helped Boland to their highest log position in many years. This is a sad indictment of the blazer-wearing rugby politicians who have driven away a man who was prepared to coach the team for free, and who allowed the union to use his privately owned rugby academy facilities at no charge to the union. Alan Zondagh was prepared to work for Boland rugby as a benefactor, but Boland rugby seemed to want to dictate the terms.

Then there is the news that Jake White has decided to leave Montpellier at the end of the current rugby season. Once again there is talk of issues between Jake and his employers, especially his apparent willingness to make himself available for the England and South African coaching jobs whilst still under contract to Montpellier. They should not have been surprised by Jake’s mercenary tendencies, they are a matter of public record.

Over in Scotland we have then news that Alan Solomons has decided to step down as coach at Edinburgh after the club lost three of their four Pro12 matches this season. I do not know if Solly was pushed out, but he has always been a man who puts the team first and his own ambitions second, and I have no doubt he would have done what he considered best for the club. I wonder if the Kings would like him back, and whether he would be brave enough to try and tackle that poison chalice again?

Another source of confusion has been the public utterances and actions of the South African coach, Allister Coetzee. I will discuss these confusing moments later in the preview to the game against Australia.

Now it is my turn to contribute to the confusion!

Regular readers of my articles will know that I am not a great fan of Jake White and his mercenary methods. I have not been kind when commenting on his job jumping nature, his habit of poaching players with a seemingly bottomless chequebook, and I have been even less complimentary of the style of rugby that he coached after his RWC success in 2007. I have often felt that his game has lost much of it’s efficacy in the years after 2007 as world rugby moved on from kicking for territory and defending to milk penalties style of rugby we started to call Jakeball. Opponents have learned how to counter Jakeball, and the public are demanding a more exciting, quicker skill-based and visually attractive game.

But, and here is my contribution to the week’s confusion, I do believe that South African rugby, especially the South African Rugby Union, needs to reach out and grab Jake White and bring him back into the local game!

For all his faults as a job-jumper and his focus on an archaic style of rugby, I do believe that he has much to offer our game, though it should be in a very specific role within the game. Jake White has some very special skills and some remarkable qualities that would be of huge value to South African rugby. There is no doubt that he is a very very good coach, and that he has a unique ability to spot talent and then nurture it! He also has the ability to gain respect and support from certain players who are usually difficult customers in the normal course of events.

Despite his success as a RWC winning international coach, I believe that perhaps his biggest contributions to rugby have been in recognizing younger talent, spotting possible combinations or units, and nurturing them onto the international stage. Think back to his earlier days as a coach.

He started his career coaching various under-19 and under-21 sides before Nick Mallett brought him into the Springbok coaching squad as the specialist video analyst and technical advisor. Mallett recognized something special in Jake!

In 1999 he was the assistant coach to the U-21 Junior Springboks, captained by John Smit. While he was the assistant coach of the U-21 they won the SANZAR tournament in Argentina, beating England, Ireland, Wales, Australia, France on route to the finals and then beat New Zealand in the final.

In 2000-2001 he was an assistant to Harry Viljoen at the Springboks.

In 2002 he took over as coach of the U-21 Junior Bok side and took them to a victory in the U-21 Rugby Union World Cup.

Take a look at some of those young players that Jake recognized and nurtured, and you will find the core of the team that won the World Cup in 2007. You will see names like Ashwin Willemse, Jean de Villiers, Fourie Du Preez, Enrico January, Jacques Cronje, Perdri Wannenberg, Gary Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Jean Smith, and JP Nel.

You will see his captain, Clyde Rathbone, who subsequently jumped ship to go and become an instant Australian after leading the Junior Boks. Quinten Geldenhuys who somehow became an Italian is another in that 2002 squad.

Add in the players who Jake worked with in 1999 and you find the beginnings of a fine record for sporting and developing younger talent. His relationship with John Smit started in that 1999 squad!

Nine of the youngsters Jake worked with between 1999 and 2002 went on to play in his 2007 World Cup winning team!

I quote Jake himself: “The core of the group that helped win the World Cup for South Africa in 2007 came from those two junior teams,"

"One of the main reasons I was able to get some success at senior level as Springbok coach was because I had worked with so many of the players at Under 21 level. These junior tournaments are a fantastic opportunity for players to get a taste of what is before them if they are prepared to work hard and develop their game.”

Jake White certainly has some unique talents. And now, in 2016, he also has a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience that could, and should, be a gold mine for South African rugby!

We know that he desperately wants another crack at coaching an international team. Whether there is a country that wants him remains the question, his abrasive nature and his tendency to jump ship at almost every opportunity will certainly count against him. Nobody wants a coach that might walk away at any moment moment.

However, I do see a role for Jake back in South Africa!

In fact I see two roles for Jake!

First and foremost, I see Jake White in the role of some kind of mentor and development coach for the wealth of younger talent in our country. Perhaps as a Director Of Rugby Development or some similar title? I can see him involved with the U/19 and U/21 squads, I can see him working across the provincial unions and franchises. I can see him contributing to the development of rugby and rugby players right at the very levels where we need it most.

I can see him as a national coaching coordinator who guides the coaches of our junior teams as we work to build a national style and skill set. He can be central to the ongoing development of young talent. We know he can do this!

A second role that I identify for Jake White is as a mentor for the national coaching squad. Allister Coetzee worked with Jake back in 2007 and the two know each other well. Jake could, and should be utilized as a guide, a sounding board, and an advisor to Allister Coetzee. He has a unique ability to recognize players than can form units and combinations in a team, and that is perhaps where Allister needs him most of all. If Jake could use Eddie Jones in a similar role, why can Allister Coetzee not have access to Jake White?

So, despite everything negative I have said about Jake White in the past, I do believe that he has some very special qualities as a coach. If he wants to leave a positive and lasting legacy in the game of rugby, this could be the way to achieve that goal.

It is time for South Africa to welcome him back!

The question is: Do the rugby politicians of South African Rugby have the ability and humility to welcome Jake back into the fold?"

 

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (that is my response).

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What Wilson should have said is that SA teams travel more than anybody else. It is a long haul to any away game. By comparison Sydney to Auckland is only a couple of hours. The AFL here in Australia has been part of study that suggest that continual long haul travel shortens football careers so SA players are at a distinct disadvantage.

I don't know much about rugby but I do know things will only change when there is an economic reason to do so. If the broadcast starts dropping off then changes will come. 

 

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Agreed and they will be keeping a beady eye on the results of spectator numbers in Japan and Singapore.

Hard to tell what will happen in Argentina who are probably better situated to participate in the NH. That must a WR political headache. It is interesting that Augustine Pinochet is now VP to Bill Beaumont. 

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On 30/09/2016 at 4:43 PM, taipan said:

We are the best situated to participate in the NH.

Does make good sense - same time zone and same or less flying time.

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