The truth is that rugby in South Africa is in big trouble and it is becoming increasingly important for us to find a solution to fix this problem and to find it fast. We as a rugby loving nation can no longer resort to the classic excuses of blaming the coach or transformation or whatever reasons we may use to soft coat the issue. It is time to dig deeper into the reasons why rugby is trending in its current direction at present, they may not be nice reasons to read but if we do not face the truth soon or else we may wake up when it’s too late to fix the issues.
It is safe to start with Super Rugby, if we were to ask the common man on the street how the Super Rugby format works, I am willing to bet that they wouldn’t be able to explain, in fact I am willing to bet that the experts that we see on our TV screens every weekend are also not in the position to explain the current format. The complexity of this format has made it a deterrent for the common man and this is evident based on the fact that viewership and live game numbers are dwindling. It also does not help that we are fielding six teams which has directly resulted in us diluting the standard of talent that is playing in the competition. With the exceptions of the Lions, it seems the only time a South African team does win is when they’re playing against another South African team…The lack of elite-level depth becomes glaringly evident when it’s stretched across six teams.
There are now talks of expanding the competition even further to include a team from the United States and one from the Pacific Islands. This cannot be a good thing as we have seen in the past that the continuous restructuring of this competition has had adverse effects on us.
An interesting article by Mark Keohane argues that we should reduce the number of South African teams that participate in the competition if we are to use ‘quality’ as a criterion. The first incarnation of the competition was called The Super 10 and South African teams that qualified to play were the top three teams from the previous years Currie Cup but as the competition expanded from 10 to 12, then 14, 15 and currently 18 teams, we continued adding more teams and then began guaranteeing them places in Super Rugby even though their Currie Cup performances were poor. This was done to “grow” the game in new regions and to increase the number of quality players via more professional opportunities. I’m not sure either objective has been achieved.
Meanwhile, when we look at our Nations’ international performance, the picture is not a rosy one either, at the time of writing this article The Springboks have fallen to their lowest ever ranking of 7th! We have had good years and we have had bad years when it comes to internationals and I cannot take away from anything that we have achieve on the world stage, but no matter how well the Springboks play they will always be judged by one measure…their ability to beat the All Blacks. So if we take into consideration that the two teams have met ten times from 2012 up until present day and that the Springboks have only managed to pull off one win in all those encounters, it seems reasonable to say that we have an appalling record against our “arch-rivals” and although these games are always built up by the media, many now consider this oneway demolition not even worth watching.
Success will always brings back some promiscuous fans, yet winning may not even be enough to overcome rugby’s harshest reality. Specifically, that the South African game is perceived as lacking creativity and often shows no attacking intent.
Although this may be subjective, the general perception of the Springbok game is viewed as a one dimensional approach to the game that is heavily reliant on hoofing the ball upfield, bullying the opposition with a heavy forward pack then waiting for them to make a mistake where we will either take the 3 points or form a driving maul off the resulting line-out to drive over and score.
Rugby experts claim that we are playing to our traditional strengths but in the modern game where the opposition is just as strong, heavy and as fast as we are, we need to find another dimension if we are to succeed.
The only way that we can ensure that the game grows is to recruit new fans and to convert back old disgruntled ones but with the current product that is currently being served up on the Southern tip of Africa, these two things seems to be an impossibility.
At the end of the day, whether we attribute the downward trend of rugby to being boring, to a lack of talent or as many have done, to the transformation issue, the honest truth of the matter remains that rugby union is currently an inferior product and the powers that be need to act soon.
So in conclusion…
Our current talent pool isn’t great, we currently don’t have any out and out world class players plying their trade on South African soil. The results are dismal. The Super Rugby format is far too confusing. Our player depth at an elite level is spread far too thin over six teams. The average fan thinks the game is boring. Grassroots level development and talent recruitment is a major concern. Overseas-based clubs are poaching the little talent that we do have left. The bid for the 2023 World Cup is currently blocked, so there are no revenue or interest generating events in near sight.
The reasons are endless but it does seem that South African rugby may just have one foot in the grave and if that is the case, it is sad because rugby has been a big part of the South African fabric for decades.