2oceansvibe’s bi-weekly sports columnist, Sean Wilson, asks why we should give a toss about end of season games.
Please SANZAR, for the love of rugby and for the love of all things super, we must avoid matchdays like last Saturday.
Don’t get us wrong. We all love rugby and will do anything we can to watch all the action Super Rugby offers after a long week of pretending to work hard while pretending to understand our jobs. It’s just that sometimes we need to employ sneaky tactics to convince our loved ones that we “need” to watch all these games on TV, even though they cut into our precious “alone time”.
This was especially apparent last Saturday, where a lot of rugby fans were wondering how they could also get away with watching all the sport on Sunday as well. Even the biggest rugby fans in the world were enticed by the prospects of the Tour de France, the Grand Prix and supporting whoever was playing Andy Murray.
SANZAR, you need to help keep up the facade that every single fixture on a Saturday is a “must watch” affair. It’s very difficult to justify that when all our partners see on the screen is the players, a handful of spectators scattered amidst an ocean of empty chairs, a couple of underage cheerleaders dancing out of sync and some guy trying to do cartwheels in a lion costume.
When they see this, they’re not only wondering what we’re doing, they’re also wondering what they’re doing with us.
We have no beef with last Friday. All our bosses could understand the need to take two hours off to watch the top of the log Chiefs take on the almost mythical Crusaders. As for the Sharks playing the Bulls in the evening, no one could doubt the importance of the game as the camera scanned through the excited crowd. It was easy to use those games to buy us time away from work or postpone us having to sit through that rented movie where Annette Bening is a lesbian mom.
The problem with Saturday’s games was that the log positions of all the home teams were palpably low. The respective log positions of the Blues, Waratahs, Cheetahs and Lions were 14th, 11th, 10th and 15th. All the home fans had no play-off hope and there’s no relegation threat to up the intensity of these games. Throw in that two of the visitors were placed at 12th and 13th, and it becomes clear that these aren’t exactly games that pack world class rugby stadiums and turn them into cauldrons of atmosphere that are perceptible to judgmental eye of our onlooking loved ones.
The first game on Saturday was at Eden Park as the Blues hosted the Force. It’s a ground that seats more than 50 000 people, yet the vast stands were dotted by spectators that numbering a mere fifth of the total capacity (and half of them are rugby obsessives that haven’t left the ground since the World Cup final last October, still waiting for all the euphoria to sink in).
The next game was the Waratahs hosting the Brumbies. Even though the Brumbies were top of the Australian conference with a sniff of a home semi-final, most of Sydney clearly had their minds on other things that day. Rugby fans in South Africa who watched the game immediately regretted it. It was the ultimate confirmation that if an Australian derby is being shown on a Saturday morning, that is the time to answer your better half’s question with, “You know what, I’d love to go to the nursery and go shopping for garden gnomes.”
Next up was the Cheetahs hosting the Stormers. Even though SuperSport had billed it as the game where the Stormers could secure the South African conference, it will always be remembered as a poorly attended rain-fest and a period of two hours where it was impossible for the average fan to distinguish one moment from any other in the blur of up and unders, knock-ons and Robbie Fleck swear words. Even Nick Mallett was bugging the studio manager to change the channel to the Tour de France.
The game also served as proof that the public don’t really care about the trophy that comes with winning one’s conference. The trophy will be presented to the Stormers on their home ground this weekend, but we all know handing over the cup is not going to be one of those glitzy, confetti-falling-from-the-sky moments to be replayed on SuperSport montages forever. The reality is the cup is going to be used at the reception area of the new restaurant opening at the offices of the WPRFU (pronounced ‘whip-purr-foo’) where it will be used to hold the mints.
The less said about watching the Lions take on the Rebels, the better. It was nigh on impossible for the neutral to justify watching that. If you thought we had it tough in South Africa, spare a thought for some New Zealanders who had to watch that game at 03h00 local time. Somewhere in Wellington, there must have been some sneaky husband that left the bed in the middle of the night to watch it in the lounge, and when his wife walked in to ask him what the hell he was watching, he was so embarrassed that he told her it was porn.
It’s understandable that SANZAR need to draw up their fixtures ages in advance, and how were they supposed to know that all those fixtures on Saturday would hold such limited interest for the tournament at large? However, they could be well served to introduce a new tournament formula to give more home fans a reason to get behind their team instead of half of the teams completely losing any hope about halfway through the tournament.
One answer is introducing relegation, but that seems to be an unrealistic prospect. That will involve a whole bunch of administrative turkeys voting for Christmas. Besides, South African fans have had enough of reading about relegation as it is. Mere mention of the Kings issue is something that makes any rugby fan in the country froth at the mouth as much as any Julius Malema soundbite can.
Something needs to be done that gives more fans hope and keep up their interest for the latter stages of the tournament. It seems inevitable that SANZAR will extend the number of teams that participate sometime in the future. After all, more games equals more TV revenue, so why have any regard what the players themselves have to go through, right?
We all know how badly South Africa want to have six teams. There’s definitely enough rugby talent in New Zealand to warrant another team without diluting their winning prospects too much. Australia’s situation might be more complicated, but if one’s determined to make it an even 18 teams, it might be worthwhile talking to some Argentinian administrators, or even invite the Japanese champions to take part with whatever galacticos squad would have won their domestic competition (it certainly wouldn’t hurt to ask).
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