Hoskins' plan has merit

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
As always, interesting times in South African rugby.  The three SANZAR countries meet in London next week to discuss the future of Super Rugby, super-ref Jonathan Kaplan to blow his last ever Test on Saturday, and coach Heyneke Meyer to name a Bok side to play Scotland consisting of Bakkies Botha and a few fringe players later today...

Following South Africa's rejection of a 2 conference Super Rugby system proposed by the Aussies and Kiwis that would have seen 6 South African teams play in one conference, and the 10 Australasian sides mix it up with Argentina and Asian in the other, SARU president Oregan Hoskins wants to see a no-pool 17-team tournament that includes an Argentine team and sees each team play each other.

He proposes that the Lions and an Argentine team be added to the 15 teams that played this year, and that they play against each other once, thus doing away with the double round of local derbies.

Look, give me back the Super 12, with the Currie Cup deciding which 4 teams represent South Africa any day. But sadly, I think that ship has sailed, and if we can’t have that, then the Hoskins plan seems to make sense. I am just not sure why he has taken so long to grasp the concept, and why SARU bowed to the current, badly flawed, structure in the first place?

This proposal heeds the concerns of players, who feel that they have to play too many high-intensity matches in a season, goes back to every team playing against each other, another thing the players (and spectators) want, and takes away that dastardly contrived log which currently ensures that a team from each country makes the overly complex finals series.

So it would mean a definite 16 games for each team, 17 for the 4 semi-finalists, and 18 for the finalists. Starts in February, done and dusted by the June Internationals.

It is still a little bloated, and does not really address the travel issue, but it would make it a little more equitable given that the Antipodeans would need to be in South Africa for a guaranteed 3 weeks. But by staffing 6 teams instead of 5, all South Africa would be doing is diluting the pool of player talent in the country, making the games against the SA franchises less tough. But that is the political bed we have made, and we must now lie in it …

And while I agree with Hoskins’ sentiment that spectator interest in the double round of local derbies in the conferences is on the decline, I am afraid that the numbers do not back him up, amazingly. All crowd attendances are down, and I think people are happy to leave the derbies for the Currie Cup, but Repucom’s TV numbers still show that there is much more interest in the Super Rugby derbies than the inter-country matches.

But I still say leave those for the Currie Cup. Super Rugby is about playing the Aussies and Kiwis, and a fundamental reason why the three Southern hemisphere sides continually dominate positions 1, 2 and 3 on the IRB rankings.

Other viable options include 1) Adding even more teams and setting it up in 5 pools like the Heineken Cup, 2) Dividing the tournament into 2 tiers based on the previous year’s results, and 3) Allowing the 3 countries as many teams as they want in their 3 pools of qualifying, which then deliver 3 teams each to play in a Super 9 that would see all teams play against each other.

All have their merits, and all of them speak to the one truth – we simply cannot continue with what we have now. It is bloated, contrived, boring and killing our players.

And in closing … I find it terribly sad, and a tad bloody scandalous to be honest, that the world's most capped Test referee, Jonathan Kaplan, will be handling his 70th - and likely last - Test in Windhoek between Namibia and Kenya this weekend. What a truly crappy way for the IRB to say “Thank you” to a great South African who has served the game so well. Conversely, well done to SARU for giving him the local send-off he deserved in the Currie Cup final.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop and editor of the recently launched free monthly digital rugby magazine called SCRUM

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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