Side Entry: Kearns’ whinge about Jaguares everything that’s wrong about Super Rugby

Of the many things you expect to hear in rugby, a whingeing Australian isn’t one of them, regardless of how crap their teams have become in recent years.

This was the case this week when former Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns moaned about the Jaguares’ involvement in Super Rugby.

He says it’s unfair because they are – give or take a few players – the Argentina team.

At some level, one can see Kearns’ argument that a national team doesn’t belong in what used to be known as the best provincial competition in the world.

But when you look at how many rungs said best provincial tournament in the world has fallen, Kearns’ comments, in a way, are everything that is wrong with Super Rugby.

There was a time when Super Rugby – when it was still super and didn’t incrementally add teams every five years to appease greedy TV executives until it wasn’t so super – graduated from being derided as “candyfloss” rugby when it began to boast games that were close to test match intensity.

These days, one can only get that when two New Zealand teams are playing, or, ironically enough, when the Kiwi sides are playing the Jaguares.

The other two-thirds of the teams that make up the competition either play in derbies that are a slow burn without the burn bit (Australia), or in games where they honestly don’t know if they are going to win or not (South Africa).

The intensity of the southern hemisphere game, aided and abetted by favourable conditions and such other variables as playing at altitude, is the reason the northern hemisphere teams have only one World Cup winner.

But watching the intensity with which the European Championship final between Leinster and Saracens was contested a fortnight ago, not only have the bragging rights to staging test rugby on a weekly basis gone up north, they have more teams among the favourites to win this year’s World Cup.

Simply put, the best rugby is no longer played in the southern hemisphere.

If you don’t buy that, ask the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings, who thought they’d boss the Pro14 when they joined a couple of seasons ago and have proven to be woefully inadequate for the chess in boots they play up there.

Kearns’ railing against a competition, which went from being elite to inclusive to the point of being bloated, is pretty much the gripe among everyone reduced to dutifully watching New Zealand teams dominate the competition every weekend.

To its credit, Sanzaar, the body that operates Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, has begun fixing the problem by trimming some of the fat, which will see the tournament go back to 14 teams.

But for any of those pending changes to take hold, the loser’s mentality that has filtered through the ranks in southern hemisphere rugby, especially in South African and Australian rugby, should be done away with.

There was a time when southern hemisphere rugby teams, especially the Aussies, prided themselves on making a plan to be competitive and not just lying down and complaining about the opposition.

Playing against 85% to 90% of the Argentina national team – and beating it – should be seen as a challenge that will lift the standards.

In fact, all the challenges that face a typical side in Super Rugby – travel, altitude, dodgy refs – should be seen as a way of making southern hemisphere rugby strong.

New Zealand teams first beat the altitude bogey and it’s no longer a factor when it comes to winning or losing games in South Africa.

It’s time their South African and Australian counterparts adopted a similar attitude to the solutions disguised as obstacles in their way.

. Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa


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