With the scrum and breakdown being a complete lottery, Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, suggests that tragically, modern day rugby is a game better played without the ball.
Thankfully the Easter weekend comes with a traditional over indulgence in chocolate and time around the fire with one’s foot on a well-stocked coolerbox! Because that turgid crop of horse manure served up in Durban and Cape Town on Easter Saturday brought anything but cheer.
And while we rightfully bemoan the lack of tries and general attacking acumen in the SA conference this year, it was not exactly much better in the so called “Pudding game” of the weekend. The Chiefs vs Crusaders match delivered just 691 metres of running rugby while dominated by 72 kicks from hand – plenty of them of the aimless, kick away possession variety. There were also 54 knocks ons and handling errors.
By comparison, the Sharks vs Cheetahs game delivered 887 running metres, 68 kicks from hand, and 40 knocks ons and handling errors, while the Stormers vs Lions snoreathon delivered 822 running metres from a surprisingly low 29 kicks from hand, with 37 knocks ons and handling errors.
The other derbies presented similar stats, but in the only non-derby game of the weekend, the Waratahs vs Bulls delivered 1046 running metres from 51 kicks, but there were 58 knock ons and handling errors.
So to say flippantly that the Kiwis do not kick the ball is just not true. They do tend to kick from 12 or 13, rather than 9 or 10, which is where most SA sides do their kicking, thus pulling more defenders in before making the kick. And apart from the brutal derby in Christchurch on Saturday, they do tend to kick more effectively, with a view to actually trying to get the ball back, rather than just kicking for territory. But they definitely do kick the ball!
That said, with the lottery that is the breakdown, the unbelievably well organised and structured defences, and feeding the scrum being anything but a guarantee of possession, rugby is a game better played without the ball these days! Penalty and possession stats all suggest that it is the team trying to play rugby with ball in hand that will either get penalised or cough up the ball.
Get the opposition to do that in their own half, and you either get a shot at goal or turnover ball which then gives you a shot at a potentially disorganised defence. So why not just kick the ball deep into the opposition half, even if straight to a defender, and take your chances?
Rugby is a sport in ICU!
Spectator numbers at stadia, especially here in the Southern Hemisphere, have been suggesting that for a while. And now even the initial 2014 TV numbers are suggesting the same. According to numbers released by Repucom this week, the average viewership per Super Rugby game in South Africa this year sits at just under 324 000. In 2013 it was 358 000, while in 2012 it came in at 353 000 viewers per game. That is as close as damnit to being 10% down.
And while it might surprise you to know that the average viewership of Vodacom Cup games this year sits at a fairly respectable 97 000 (Varsity Cup came in at 70 000 and Community Cup at 53 000), that is a whopping 51% down on last year’s number.
Yet still the powers that be at SANZAR want to increase the number of games on offer by increasing the number of teams, including yet another South African side, even though 4 of our current 5 sides occupy spots in the bottom 7 on the overall log of 15!
It’s just plain ludicrous.
When a loved one goes into the ICU for whatever reason, we stop all that we are doing so as to provide some TLC. Yet instead of providing the game of rugby with some much needed TLC, it seems that the old fashioned smelling salts will be hauled out, perhaps an Elastoplast applied, before sending it out for a 16th round against Mike Tyson!
PS – The most watched game of 2014 (Sharks vs Bulls on February 15th) garnered just under 945 000 viewers, which is identical to the total TV viewership of the same fixture last year. So no growth, but not a decline, suggesting that the somewhat turgid derbies are still the lifeblood of the tournament, at least in terms of TV viewership!