A Loss Of Faith in the Game they Play in Heaven

We all make bad decisions, sometimes they become clear quickly, and on other occasions the wisdom of the decision takes a little longer to become apparent.

SANZAAR made a bad decision to expand Super Rugby from a fifteen team competition to and eighteen team competition. (Is It Really Super?) If the powers that be had not been blinded by money they would have realised that the expansion was never going to work.

The good news is that they have realised the error of their ways after just one season. They admitted the mistake, which was glaringly obvious with no Super Rugby side recording a profit in 2016, and announced changes for 2018.

There are some who are saying that those who made the foolish decision to expand should no longer have positions within the sport, others have taken a more understanding view and feel they created the mess, so they should sort the mess out. However with such an error of judgement can they be trusted to make the right decision when trying to right the ship?

As was expected when the announcement came on Sunday, New Zealand will keep its five teams in the competition, South Africa will lose two teams and Argentina’s Jaguares will play in their conference, while in Australia one team is to be sacrificed and the Japanese Sunwolves will play in their conference.

South Africa were blinded by arrogance when it came to the expansion of Super Rugby. For so long a major force in rugby it was assumed that the conveyor belt of producing world class players would continue to operate. What they failed to realise was that some players would continue to move overseas and ultimately represent other nations internationally. Then with the Rand’s value dropping there would be a mass exodus of players chasing financial security in Japan and Europe. This left their Super Rugby franchises short on depth in terms of talent and experience. It has been reported that over 300 players, including 65 Springboks have left the Republic to play overseas. That is always going to test your player stocks.

The talent pool is now too thin to be able to support six franchises. So to save South African rugby strong decisions have to be made. Which teams will be cut? Everyone is saying that the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings are the favourites, but this has to be decision based on far more than sentiment. The decision as to who stays and who goes needs to be based on the franchises being open to new thought processes. They have to have a fresh outlook and look at ways to generate money that enables them to pay their players wages commensurate with what they would get overseas. There needs to be a far more commercial outlook at making the franchises viable businesses, and on a sporting front all the teams that remain must have outstanding player development programs.

In Australia a similar argument has been raised, that the country cannot support five franchises. Australia too has seen a number of its best players lost to opportunities overseas. In 2015 the ARU made the decision to suddenly ‘allow overseas-based Australia internationals who had played more than 60 Tests for the Wallabies and held a professional ARU contract for at least seven years to be available for national selection.’ The reason was obvious, the players being given the honour of wearing the Green and Gold were in some cases not ready, and in others not on a par with those who had taken overseas contracts.

The ARU has a very had decision to make when it comes to which team they cut, and one feels that whatever decision they do make they will have made the wrong one. Which brings into question whether the Board and CEO should stay on or leave once a decision has been made.

Incredibly the ARU has agreed to sacrifice an Australian Franchise and allow a Japanese team to come and play in their conference at the Australian team’s expense. First of all Japan are not members of SANZAAR, so whether they are the host of the next World Cup or not should have little bearing on the situation. Maybe, like the Copa America in football they could invite Japan to compete as a guest if the aim is to help their top players develop.

The Sunwolves team currently, like it’s fellow Super Rugby teams is not making money. Many will argue that it is also doing Japanese rugby a disservice by playing games in Singapore. Japan believe it or not has the second largest number of club teams playing rugby, so why would they play games in Singapore with such a supporter base at home? Why would they play three ‘home’ games in Singapore?

The ARU’s Chairman Cameron Clyne on Alan Jones’s radio show on 2GB stated that the reasons for an Australian team being cut was financial. “We can’t afford five teams” were his exact words, so why did they start the Melbourne Rebels 6 years ago? Surely if they had carried out due diligence, as is the role of a board, that would have been apparent then. He then went on to say that the financial issue was not a result of expansion, stating “It doesn’t make any difference going from 15 to 18. The 18 teams did not have an impact on us dropping this team. This has been a financial issue for ten years,” Mr Clyne said. Once again if that was the case why were the Rebels brought in six years ago, and and why did the ARU approve the expansion to Super 18’s if their finances were in such a poor state?

One has to question, as Alan Jones did in no uncertain terms, those running the game and whether they are the right people to do so.

It was also revealed this week that the ARU was looking to try and have New Zealand breakaway from Super rugby and the two Trans Tasman rivals form a competition of their own. Talk about stabbing the South African and Argentineans in the back!

This suggestion may well have been born out of a worse financial situation than has been revealed by the ARU, and the best option they had of preserving all five franchises and not having to pay compensation to which ever team they decide to cut. Yet are the ARU right in trying to destabilise a competition that is two decades old and to which there are numerous contracts with television and stadia to be compensated if they broke away?

New Zealand rejected the proposal. Which could well have highlighted another massive miscalculation by the powers that be in where Australia sits amongst the Southern Hemisphere nations. There is a far greater rugby history between South African and New Zealand than there is between Australia and New Zealand. There is in New Zealand a far greater respect for what South Africa has achieved in rugby over the past century than there is for Australia.

If we look at the various incarnations of Super Rugby, from Super 12 to Super 18’s how have the various nation’s teams performed? New Zealand teams have won 14 Championships, Australia four and South Africa three. When the competition was Super 12 and Super 14 only the top four teams played in the finals, when it became Super 15 that changed to six teams and in the one season of Super 18 eight teams took part in the finals. New Zealand teams again have dominated with their teams claiming 45 of the 98 finals places available, South African teams have claimed 29 and Australian teams 24 finals berths.

When it comes to the actual final, in 21 competitions New Zealand teams have played in 18 finals, Australian teams in nine and South African teams in seven; this is counting one team in a final when it has been between teams from the same country playing in the final. There have been five all New Zealand finals and two all South African finals.

These statistics show that when Australian teams do make the finals they tend to do well. Australia has also had three of its five Super Rugby teams win Super Rugby titles. Only the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels have yet to make the finals, but both teams are heading in the right direction. By comparison all five New Zealand franchises have won a title, while in South Africa only the Blue Bulls have lifted the trophy, despite three franchises playing in the final and four making finals appearances.

South Africa and New Zealand are powerhouse rugby nations. Australia is not. Australia punches well above its weight and continues to produce outstanding players. If due diligence had been done by the board they would have known that creating a fifth franchise would lead to lean times and a period of pain, but ten years on the rewards would start to show, just as they are at the Western Force. Finally home grown talent is coming through and playing in the first team and the club is less reliant on prising players away from the three established rugby strongholds of Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra.

From the outside it appears that there was no long term plan from the ARU, that they went along with Super 18 expansion because they were blinded by the promise of extra much-needed money, which did not eventuate. Now they have knee-jerked rather than stick to, if they had one, their long term plan, and decided to axe a team and all of the infrastructure put in place to develop players of the future. Such a move will take Rugby Union back decades and threatens to no longer allow itself to be called a national sport if the Western Force are cut.

Alan Jones said that the Board needed to do the honourable thing and resign. If they do the rugby community, like all sporting communities, should demand that those who replace them are more transparent in the future. That a summary of their meetings with decisions made to carry the game forward and the grounds on which those decisions were made are readily available to all. At the present time the trust that the Board and Senior management can be relied upon to do the right thing has definitely been eroded by the events of the past couple of months. It will take a great deal to win it back.

A Loss Of Faith in the Game they Play in Heaven
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