DURBAN - There was a throwaway remark from former Springbok Mark Andrews this week that gave some insight into the players’ view on the old chestnut of whether South Africa’s franchises should head north and ditch the Sanzaar alliance.
Andrews proudly told me that his son was heading to New Zealand later this year as a member of the South African waterpolo team that is to play the Kiwis.
“I said: ‘Son, well done, but I am not coming to watch. I went to New Zealand 26 times as a player and after my last tour there, I said to myself ‘If I don’t come here again, what a pleasure.’”
Andrews added that New Zealand was a beautiful country with amazing people, as was Australia, but his aversion to travelling Down Under was simply because of the incredible “schlepp” of the marathon travel and the “crippling jet lag”.
He said most players found the travel daunting although South African rugby players had become better accustomed to the long-haul travel.
It has been said that for every time zone you cross in travel, you need one day to get back to your optimum as a sportsman. Our rugby teams travel across 10 time zones to get to New Zealand.
Players have often said to me that two weeks in the antipodes is bearable, but four weeks becomes about survival. A month away from home is just too long, and it is obvious that it puts South African teams at a disadvantage.
New Zealand teams, by contrast, have a two-week visit to South Africa and they treat it as a smash-and-grab raid, throwing everything into what is a “doable” tour. They also use it as a team-building exercise. And the jet lag travelling from New Zealand to South Africa is less severe.
Super Rugby is now into its 23rd year, having kicked off in 1996, and what we have seen is a periodic repackaging of the same product. It is like a can of beer having a different label every now and again, but in reality it is still the same can of beer.
Humans by nature do not like change in their lives, but when it comes to entertainment, proceedings can grow stale and need a shake-up. Having England and France’s great clubs visiting our stadiums would draw the interest of crowds that are tired of watching the same old touring teams from Australia and New Zealand.
When Regan Hoskins was president of Saru some years ago, he was a strong advocate of South Africa breaking away from Sanzaar and joining the European leagues because South Africa would be better off on so many fronts.
The players would barely feel the effects of crossing one or two time zones in a 12-hour flight to Europe.
Visiting English and French teams would also bring their fans with them. Their currency is strong and the travel is not onerous. There would thus be tourism benefits from a liaison with the north.
How many New Zealanders and Australian fans follow their teams to South Africa? None?
Hoskins sometimes grew livid when discussing the advantage Australia and New Zealand have at the cost of South Africa. Hoskins argued that South Africa was helping keep those two countries financially afloat through earning greater TV revenue. And South Africa could earn money in an alliance with countries that pay in pounds and euros.
Andrews could not agree more. “As a player, I see us keeping New Zealand so competitive at our cost. Take us out of the picture and who are they are going to play?” Food for thought indeed.