Crowds: Increasing challenge in Super Rugby

Cape Town - Excessive tinkering with the format, too many teams, the mass migration of southern-hemisphere players to juicier deals on the other side of the equator ... many of us have pretty much accepted already that Super Rugby's heyday in the late 1990s is unlikely to be repeated.

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But there is also increasing, deeply worrying confirmation in the early stages of this year's competition that attendances only continue to slide, tournament wide.

The completion of two rounds means that the majority of sides have now played at least one home fixture - in South Africa only the Bulls are an exception - and the portents are extremely poor for any turnaround in stadium interest in 2020.

It is a sad day for old-timers, really, when a gate of 27 301 for a Stormers v Bulls fixture on a sun-soaked Newlands evening is trumpeted as healthy: keep in mind that it is highly likely to have been the last "north-south" tussle of its kind at this level at the doomed ground, so that should have been an extra lure.

That it was significantly better than their opening-match figure of below 19 000 against the Hurricanes a week earlier was also reason only for very tempered optimism.

One thing I will say about Cape Town: if the Stormers stay on a winning roll, the attendance should go northward accordingly, even if they aren't playing the most exhilarating rugby - that was certainly the case for good chunks of the Allister Coetzee coaching tenure, when crowds of 40 000 or more were fairly commonplace.

But don't expect a major buzz at Loftus now, considering the Bulls' nought-from-two start and rank lack of attacking potency as things stand: the visiting Blues won't exactly have the Pretoria public flocking there in droves in just under a fortnight.

There is a chance that the Sharks' gates will perk up a bit if they, like the Stormers, continue largely on winning ways and return from their overseas tour still very much at the races: a good likelihood, it seems, especially with a renewed commitment in their ranks to vibrant, ball-in-hand rugby.

Alarm bells will be ringing at Ellis Park, however, where a pitiful 4 800 souls - you read that right - turned out for the Lions' first home date with the Reds.

Yes, there'd been torrential rain and some road-closures and the like in the hours beforehand, but the game itself ended up largely being played in fairly benign conditions, so the weather hazards serve only as a limited excuse.

In Australia, the Waratahs will be barely less bleak: they chose to play their opening home game at Newcastle rather than Sydney, perhaps hoping for an atmosphere at a smaller venue; instead they got a franchise-low (apparently) figure of just below 7 500 against the limited Blues, who they duly lost by 20 points to.

It's not a great way to pay the bills, is it?

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*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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