The Southern Kings celebrate after their victory over the Rebels. Photo: Deryck Foster/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - So, according to SA Rugby, Sanzaar, and a good number of observers and critics, South Africa simply does not have enough quality rugby players to sustain six Super Rugby franchises.

That is one of the reasons why this country is in line to have two of its franchises chopped from the competition. What a load of bull.

I said it in this column on March 28 - way before the Kings went on their winning run and also before the Cheetahs lost the plot after news came to light that their coach Franco Smith would be joining the Springboks - and I’m going to say it again; Super Rugby doesn’t need the number of teams reduced for it to be a better competition, it needs a change in its structure. Reducing the number of teams from 18 to 15 is pointless and flies in the face of everything Sanzaar hoped to achieve when the competition was expanded, first to 12, then 14, then 15 and now 18 teams.

Again I say, Super Rugby must go bigger, not smaller.

At this stage the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels in Australia face the chop, while in South Africa the likeliest sides to be done away with are the Kings and Cheetahs. New Zealand isn’t affected, and rightly so as they produce the goods year-in and year-out and their teams generally perform better than many of the other outfits in the competition.

Also not affected by the cull are the Jaguares and the Sunwolves ... because these are supposedly developing markets, according to Sanzaar. So, keep them in, that’s fine, got no problem with that.

But why Australia - where rugby union ranks well below Aussie Rules Football and Rugby League for popularity and numbers playing the game - is only in line to lose one team needs to be explained; if that indeed happens. And why South Africa, with rugby union the only real type of rugby played here and there being thousands of men playing the game, should lose two sides is beyond me.

Firstly, Sanzaar increased the number of teams over the years so as to develop the game around the world and open up new markets. Then why do they now want to kill off rugby in Perth, or Melbourne, in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein? Come on, rugby will die in those centres if they chop those sides. Nobody must tell me it won’t happen. And South African rugby bosses must forget about teams heading to Europe to play in a competition up there ... let Europe look after itself.

The thing is, as I stated a few weeks back, increasing the teams from 18 to 20 or even 24, and having two pools of say 10 or 12 sides in each would solve many of the issues that are being used as excuses to reduce the teams. For one, teams of equal ability and strength will do battle against each other in each pool, and no one loses out and more markets can be developed and grown. Argentina could conceivably supply a second side (that isn’t their Test side), Asia could supply another team, and so could Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. There are other options available too, like a side from the USA.

By doing this, and having a promotion-relegation system in place, you’d put an end to matches where nothing is at stake ... as is the case now and one of the reasons why the Cheetahs, the Bulls, the Reds, the Sunwolves, Jaguares almost have nothing to play for. They’re going through the motions ... they’re not going to be in the quarter-finals, but they’re also not going to be relegated. But if there was something to play for, like trying to stay “up”, or if they were in Pool B and trying to go “up”, there would be reason for them to fight each week, resulting in better quality matches.

Every single match, every point, would be cherished because something would be on the line.

Also, don’t tell me South Africa hasn’t got enough players to fill six franchises. We’ve got more than enough players; the reason, I believe, why some of our teams are struggling is because of an inferior standard of coaching generally, compared to New Zealand, and the fact not more has been done - and is being done - to grow our pool of players, especially black players.

The SuperSport Rugby Challenge will hopefully assist in this regard, but where are our rugby academies in this country - why has SA Rugby not built an academy in Soweto, and what happened to the academy in Alice? So much more could be done to bring through young black players, but the standard of coaching in many respects is also to blame. We lament the lack of skills training all the time in this country, don’t we?

There should also be a draft system where those players not getting game time at a certain franchise are loaned to another franchise for a season.

If I were at the Cheetahs or Kings I’d also be fighting tooth and nail to stay in Super Rugby. It’s too easy for Sanzaar to say ‘let’s cut’ when there are other options available, ones I doubt have been properly and fully explored. Really, do we really not think we have enough rugby players in South Africa to sustain six teams? Come on, of course we do.

The Star

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