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The next game for the Lions is against the Jaguares in BA on 1 Feb 2020, kickoff at 23:40 SA Time.

Super Rugby's immediate future: Why it's 'win-lose

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    Posted: 27-Jun-2019 at 12:41pm

The short-term climate for once-proud Super Rugby looks murky.

While looming alterations are both welcome and necessary, they will simultaneously run the risk of simply creating a renewed environment where an all too predictable cream rises to the top - or read: clear-cut New Zealand dominance - in terms of balance of power between the competing countries.

Can the now more embattled tournament, too, afford the indulgence of one more season of the clearly unpopular status quo, a mere treading of water in a tough climate, before changes are implemented for the 2021 event?

Effectively having acknowledged that the conference system - installed from 2011 onwards - just hasn’t cut it in approval terms from the competition’s more durable devotees, SANZAAR confirmed earlier this year that 2020 will be the last on a three-group basis.

The Japan-based Sunwolves will be stripped from it for 2021, leaving 14 teams slugging it out in a return to a round-robin-based format and altogether fairer, single points table.

Ditching the conferences, with their stronger emphasis on derbies - too many of which seem to have lost their sparkle, particularly in South Africa - is a wise course of action by the umbrella body.

Far too many rugby-lovers, it has become so apparent, have a distaste for the dubious legitimacy of its knockout seeding stipulations, or even confess in some cases to not even fully understanding how the system works and lacking the conviction to remedy that phenomenon.

Once again this year, as we await the weekend’s semi-finals (Jaguares v Brumbies, Crusaders v Hurricanes), the controversial requirement that each conference winner automatically occupy berths one, two and three on the overall table - even if other sides have earned superior log points - unjustly devalued the quarter-final seeding of at least one team.

It was the Hurricanes this year ... and it is a hallmark that has dogged the Cake Tin-dwellers, presumably to their chagrin, for each of the last two prior seasons as well.

When everyone knows that an all-NZ 2019 showpiece on July 6 between the Crusaders and Hurricanes should have been teed up, these two instead meet one stage earlier.

Despite the inspiring advances of the Jaguares this year - as first-time SA conference masters - the ‘Canes were really the second best side overall in ordinary season to the legendary Cantabrians, having earned two points more than the Argentineans, and that from a conference featuring stiffer obstacles along the way for its participants.

But the Hurricanes were forced into artificial fourth for seedings purposes, in a step that mirrored 2018 when they earned considerably more points than both the Lions (second) and Brumbies (third).

The 2017 season provided an even more inequitable situation, with the Wellingtonians seeded fifth despite a gaping 15-point superiority over the Stormers (officially third) and as many as 24, laughably, over the fourth-ranked Brumbies.

It is hardly a recipe for credibility.

So it does beg the question of whether SANZAAR should have acted with greater urgency, by returning to round-robin next season rather than more distant 2021.

The confirmed, doomed Sunwolves will now simply linger - perhaps with deeper difficulty, apathy and disillusionment? - for one more campaign, in which they hardly seem likely to improve markedly on another basement finish this year.

They were an unpalatable 16 points short of the next worst finishers, the Reds, in 2019, and what earthly reason is there to suggest they will suddenly muster the desired quality or relish to be more competitive in 2020?

Most ironically, of course, they have nevertheless managed to be one of the few sides these days featuring a healthily-packed stadium whenever they hosted games in Tokyo.

But it is right that they go - especially as they featured so regrettably few Japanese players in their ranks - immediately giving Super Rugby a better strength-versus-strength feel again from 2021.

It will also be a relief to ditch the dubious quarter-final stage then. As many as eight teams in a 15-strong competition cracking the last eight (so often an excuse for coaches of rank mediocre teams to questionably trumpet “look, we did make the knockouts”) is just not a sound recipe for truly getting the juices flowing.

This year, for instance, the Highlanders snuck into the last qualifying berth of eighth despite just six ordinary-season victories: a win percentage of 37.5.

A return to round-robin will certainly eliminate a good chunk of the damaging, perceived “joke” factor to Super Rugby’s current structure, with the best teams ending in more rightful positions anew.

On the flip side, however, a serious danger looms that some of New Zealand’s traditionally heavyweight franchises will just have more of a field day in performance terms than has been able to be the case since 2011 and the conferencing “curbs” to their excellence in several cases.

By 2021, there is little reason to expect that South Africa’s four Super Rugby sides will be significantly stronger than they are now: quite the opposite trend may only deepen, in fact, with so many best-calibre players lured abroad to more attractive currencies.

You may well find a significant number of both SA and Australian-based sides getting off on the wrong foot and largely staying there, to the detriment of already under-threat spectator interest as the season drags on.

Super Rugby’s changes, two years up the road? I see win-lose, and that may not be enough to get it back to something even approaching its majestic heyday ...

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Lion4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Jun-2019 at 2:24pm
So maybe a better way for the semis to be decided is via a draw to decide home advantage. With highest ranked semi final winner to host the final. Its a pity that we are so far geographically far apart, because then we could easily have neutral venues for the finals, as they do in Europe.
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