The Competition Makes the Game – What Super Rugby is Getting Wrong?

I would remark after my arrival in the UK that you could watch more premiership football (soccer) in South Africa than you could in the UK. It was everywhere.

I am not a football fan. It used to bug me when it was all that was on TV.

Not being a football fan in the UK is a slight hindrance. When you are meeting people it’s good common ground and a great conversation starter.

However, the longer I lived in the UK the more I started to follow the competitions. I found myself wanting to watch Match of the Day on BBC on a Saturday night. This for a sport a don’t like. I hardly ever watched an entire game. But I wanted to know …

That this happened should not be surprising. A Ph.D. student visiting from the UK at the University of Cape Town had told me why a couple of years earlier. He was living with a friend of mine, and a Champions League game came on TV.

As I vented my frustration, he explained it is not about the game. It is about what this game means in the context of the competition. The result matters more than the quality of the match. Even then, as he explained to me what the result of this match would mean, my resistance dissipated. Dare I say it, I almost wanted to watch the game.

Back in the UK, I found myself trying to read the football results on the back of other commuters newspapers on the tube. His observation would keep coming back to me. Here I was wanting to know what had happened in the Premiership over the weekend.

I was hooked by the competition. By the unfolding story that the competition generates. I still didn’t like the game itself. But I was starting to like the competition.

The intrigue of who would qualify for the Champions League; who was fighting relegation from the Premiership; who was performing well in Division One hoping to make it into the Premiership; how had the team promoted last year performed? Up and down the league table there was a story to follow. And the games were the twists and turns in the story.

The matches progressed the story. The result of each match was a kind of choose your own adventure. A surprise result here and there and the script would change.

The hype and interest were about more that the game of football.

So what does this have to do with Super Rugby?

SANZAAR could learn a thing or two from by PhD friend. I am a member of the

IMG_6799I am a member of the Queensland Reds and have tickets to all the home games. I enjoy going to the games. But not for the quality of the match. I go for the company of the friends, and a beer in the stand. Suncorp Stadium where the home games are is a very easy stadium to visit. It is a good evening out.

It dawned on me that at each game this year, and last year too, I have had no idea where the Reds are on the league table.

There are a couple of reasons for that. One they are not performing well enough for me to believe they have a chance of winning.

The main reason though; the Super Rugby competition format is flawed.

I’ll explain why I believe that.

In short, it does not generate enough intrigue and interest and the top and bottom of the ladder. It does not form part of the underlying local competitions either. There is no qualification aspect.

The competition, as it is now, is split into a couple of conferences. I want to say three, but I think the proper answer is four.

This highlights my point, I don’t even know. I have to go look it up, and I don’t feel like it. I don’t pay attention to the league table at all. It means so little. It doesn’t reflect the performance of each team.

Each team in a conference plays each other home and away. And then each conference has a couple of games against some of the teams in another conference. No one team will play ever other team.

It’s a hairball competition format. It is too difficult to understand what is going on.

They create a combined log. But often the team in 6th place has fewer points than the team in 7th, but it sits there as it is leading the conference it is in. This is nuts.

Then we have the fact that all teams do not play each other. That means some teams are lucky and play mostly weaker teams, and some teams are unlucky and play the stronger teams.

This lack of fairness erodes the underlying foundation of a fair league. Some characters in the story have a harder journey than others.

The current format is two or three years old. Yet even before that, when it was Super 15 and all teams played each other, the competition was flawed. The sheer travel involved in a competition spanning the eastern hemisphere made it unequal.

But at least then, each team played each other once in the competition. Over a two-year cycle, each team would play each other home and away. You could understand where your team sat in the competition.

This simpler format made it interesting if your team was in the running. But a couple of bad games and you fell away.

A the bottom of the ladder, there was nothing to play for. You start going through the motions as a team and as a supporter.

There is no qualifying competition in Super Rugby. I think this is a shame. A missed opportunity. Super Rugby should support the local competitions, and be part of the local competitions. Not a separate “super” entity. They should be working together, not against each other.

Let us contrast that with a competition like the Premier League in the UK.

Even if your team is performing badly, there is the intrigue of relegation that makes the result of each game important. Which in turn makes the game itself worth caring about.

When there is no consequence to losing, the pressure and focus become the quality of the rugby. Very few supporters are interested in the technical intricacies of the game itself. Even fewer of us understand the rules of rugby. I’ll include myself there.

My point is that the game is interesting because of the competition. Because the competition creates the story in which the game happens. And it is the story that many supporters come to follow. When we understand the competition.

You could argue about the structures within each country, and for the development and expansion of the game. And you would be right. They all need attention.

For this post, I have chosen to focus on the competition format itself, and compare it another competition format. Which one has the better viewing numbers and the money to invest in the game?

SANZAAR set the format of the competition. They recently adjusted it, to try to fix it. But I think they have not fixed the underlying flaw. The new competition structure has fewer teams, but the same conference structure which lessens the overall competition.

They think they have fixed it. But they haven’t.

I’ll just call it like it is. The competition is boring.

If I have any facts about the structure of the competition above wrong, I apologise. Yet, it makes my point. I love rugby, but am not motivated to figure it out.

They should fix that.

sharks-logoIn the interest of disclosure, I am first and foremost a Sharks supporter. I have been from the age of 12. However, living in Brisbane as part of in a family from Brisbane, I want the Reds to do well. I also want to support rugby in Australia. The Rugby Union world needs a strong Australian rugby team. I need a rugby competition to go watch.