When Super Rugby arrived on the scene in 1996, it was brilliant. Colourful jerseys, mullets, cheerleaders. Even the word ‘franchise’ sounded exotic back then. 12 teams, everyone played everyone else, two semi finals and the whole thing took about three months. Fans were more interested in smoking a packet of durries before the match and going to an Exponents concert afterwards than loading up the credit card on replica jerseys at Rebel Sport.
But – no-one tinkers with a winning formula like rugby, and in 2018 we have a schedule that starts firmly in cricket season (the BLACKCAPS and England played a three Test-series during the 2018 Super Rugby season) and takes a three week break for a meaningless Test series to be played in June.
Teams from Argentina and Japan are included now, but overall, southern hemisphere rugby is going backwards faster than post-Joshua Tree U2, with former powerhouses Australia and South Africa nowhere near their 1990s form or organisational strength.
For New Zealand rugby fans, it means the same interminable local derbies week after week, with hard earned quarterfinal spots going off shore thanks to a complicated conference system that makes as much sense as those self-service machines in McDonalds.
Drivers for this mess are the desire to grow the game in new countries and the need to generate revenue, but we’re left with a competition solely geared to TV that leaves fans bloated and bored by the time it’s finished.
It’s not *all* bad – the Chiefs and Hurricanes produced a fantastic match last Friday night, despite star players being out injured, and are set to do it again tonight. The playoffs, now they’re finally here, look tasty.
What’s the solution? For fans, I say don’t reward bad behaviour and vote with your wallet. Watch cricket in the summer, and don’t watch rugby until after the international break, when the matches start to mean something.
Let’s rip the game back from the administrators, referees and sponsors and bring back the Super 10, that ran for three seasons between 1993 and 1995. Four NZ teams, two Aussie, Three South African and a Pacific Island international team. Two round robins, one final. Simple. Let’s do this.