Paying plenty to play All Blacks?

A sneak preview of Tank Lanning’s column on Sport24 tomorrow …

Tank Lanning

RepucomSA released some truly incredulous TV viewership numbers this week. All good, if not sensational, on the South African front with the cumulative average audience of live broadcasts on SuperSport reaching a whopping 36 831 694 viewers, which is an increase of 18.2% on last year’s numbers.

Key though, is that the above number represents 67% of the total SANZAR audience. The Kiwis (via Sky Sports) bring in 22% of the audience, and the Aussies (via Fox Sports) a meager 11%.

SA home games are without doubt the key audience drivers with the Bulls v Stormers game on the 2nd of June being the most watched game to date.

18 of the 20 most viewed games were hosted in SA, 19 included an SA side, and 13 were SA derbies. New Zealand sides were involved in 6 of those games, while Australian sides played in only 3 of the top 20 most viewed games!

And we all but gave up the Currie Cup so the Aussies could get a built in domestic competition via an expanded Super Rugby tournament? A tournament that is obliterating players as if they were skittles in a ten pin bowling game …

Obviously it is all about the cash, with the current deal, which runs from 2011 to 2015, thought to be worth a total of US$400 million. Which is then split three ways … And while SANZAR released a list of 18 broadcasting companies around the world to which they sell Super Rugby and Rugby Championship rights this week, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is the three media houses in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa that are paying the most. And based on the viewership numbers released this week, it will be SuperSport who are topping that list.

So we (via SuperSport) pay the most for the rights, take only a third of that money (via SARU), while delivering 67% of the TV audience, and say yes to a tournament that all but destroys both the Currie Cup and our players?

The prize is of course getting to play the All Blacks twice a year, but that seems a heavy price to pay!


And then down in Port Elizabeth where the annual Craven Week is taking place … Apart from the dire performance from perennial school boy dominators, Free State, which will have sent a nasty chill up the spines of the powers that be at the Cheetahs, two things caught my eye.

Having watched the main game on all three days thus far, I am gob smacked by the mostly absent defence. There seems to be a total lack of any formal, structured defensive systems. Don’t get me wrong – it makes for a fantastic brand of rugby to watch, and of course at this age, there is still space for the monster to smash through the more genetically challenged – but how do we go from this to a mostly defence orientated senior game?

Is there not space for a game plan somewhere between these two extremes?

And unlike when played in big cities in previous years, every game this year is being played at the new stadium. Now I know we are under pressure to make use of the new stadia, but in the Craven Weeks that I have been involved in (as a player and then as a commentator), the midweek games have been played at a school or club, with only the final day’s main games being played at the stadium, often as a curtain raiser to a big senior game.

So instead of playing in front of full small stands and giving a local school some publicity, these guys are playing on a great surface in a world class stadium, but to an empty cavern full of echoes. And there is no added incentive of playing the main game at the stadium, as they have already done that …

An opportunity missed to showcase one of the many schools in the area – like Grey, Union, Graeme College, Kingswood, St. Andrew’s College, Framesby, Daniel Pienaar, Muir College or Pearson – so often touted as a primary reason for the Kings to be given Super Rugby status?


Thursday’s Craven Week Fixtures:

09h30 – Griquas CD vs Border CD
11h00 – Limpopo vs Zimbabwe
12h30 – EP CD vs Griffons
14h00 – WP vs SWD
15h30 – Blue Bulls vs Pumas
Wednesday’s Results:
Griquas (8) 15 – Tries: Lehan Muller, Dimitrio Tieties. Conversion: Tieties. Penalty: Tieties.
Namibia (14) 29 – Tries: Shareave Titus, Leon Feris, Justin Newman, Dian Wiese. Conversions: Chris Arries (3). Penalty: Arries.
Valke (24) 38 – Tries: Sipho Nhleko, Ruan Potgieter (2), Leon Potgieter, Johan Oosthuizen, Jean-Pierre du Preez. Conversions: Ruan Potgieter (4).
Leopards (5) 5 – Try: Thomas Dreyer.
Free State (14) 14 – Tries: Olwethu Ndakisa, Luke Cyster. Conversions: Pieter Jordaan (2).
Border (3) 9 – Penalties: Akhona Sihunu (2), Aubrey Ferreira.
EP (10) 22 – Tries: Thembalethu Ray Williams, Aidon Davis, Sergeal Petersen. Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (2). Penalty: Stapelberg.
Boland (10) 13 – Try: Anzo Stubbs. Conversion: Colin Willemse. Penalties: Willemse, Corne Sharp.
KZN (8) 8 – Try: Jesse Kriel. Penalty: Robert Anderson.
Lions (10) 17 – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Clinton Theron. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (2). Penalty: Van der Walt.
Tuesday’s Results:
 Zimbabwe 31 Border CD 9
Griquas CD 27 EP CD 28
SWD 46 Limpopo 18
Pumas 48 Griffons 24
WP 27 Blue Bulls 47
Monday’s Results:
Leopards 36 Namibia 29
Boland 16 Griquas 12
Lions 29 Border 14
Free State 24 KZN 48
EP 41 Valke 17


  1. I guess the actual numbers aren’t that surprising – NZ has a population of 4.5m and while they live and breathe rugby, they’re not a particularly appreciable TV audience. Australia has 22m, but rugby is the third most popular football code behind League and Aussie Rules – maybe 1m is a realistic figure for Aussies who follow rugby union? South Africa has 48m people, of whom maybe… 5m (?) follow rugby. Simple maths flows from there.

    But what is surprising are all the commercial deals, as you rightly point out. Clearly South Africa is not batting at full strength, or not batting smart, when it steps into the negotiating rooms of SANZAR.

  2. Hi Tank,

    It is because we are stuck with a “Slapgat” President at SARU – Oregon Hoskins got no balls to stand up against the poepol from Australian and just gets run over and just say “JaBaas” to what ever is put on the table.

    SARU should be DICTATING what happens in the Super series and just tell them that if they don’t comply we will go North with our rugby and “they” can start a new series with Japan and the South Sea Islands as competitors.

    At least that way we will also get rid of Bryce Lawrence.

    Just my feelings and enjoy your day.

  3. More blather from the desk of the General! Another thing stacked in favour of bigger TV numbers in SA is the timing of the games and the impact of time zones.

    If you live in NZ, a typical Super Rugby weekend’s game times are (game locations in brackets):

    Fri: 19:35 (NZ), 21:40 (Aus)
    Sat: 05:00 (SA), 19:35 (NZ), 21:40 (Aus)
    Sun: 01:00 (SA), 03:00 (SA)

    The same games if viewed on the east coast of Australia:

    Fri: 17:35, 19:40
    Sat: 07:00, 17:35, 19:40
    Sun: 03:00, 05:00

    compared to South Africa:

    Fri: 09:35, 12:40, 19:00
    Sat: 09:35, 12:40, 15:00, 17:00

    So basically, if you are in NZ or Aus, you watch pretty much all your rugby at night (when dinner, other plans, other TV, kids’ bedtime etc gets in the way). Even in NZ, you need to be up until almost midnight to watch the entirety of a game played in Sydney, Brisbane or Canberra. And you will rarely watch the games based in South Africa because they are timed so poorly for you (how many South Africans would get up at 01:00 or 03:00 on a Sunday morning to catch a live game of rugby?)

    Contrast that to South Africa, where the majority of games are at reasonably convenient TV times, especially the two Saturday games in South Africa, which are usually at 15:00 and 17:00.

    It does make one wonder why the Aussies and Kiwis have to play their rugby at night, while the South Africans get to play it in the afternoon… so maybe THAT has been negotiated well for South Africa? South African fans get to watch more rugby, even when their teams are on tour downunder, because the games are played at night, which is the nicer end of the morning in SA. No such luck for Aussies and Kiwis.

    1. Good point general, and fair. But the fact that so many of the top 20 games are SA derbies (and thus not likely to be huge drawcrads in Aus or NZ in any case) does indicate that by far the largest audience is coming from SA …

      Some times I wish we had that Kiwi schedule … Then we would have a good excuse NOT to watch all 7 games of the weekend!

  4. I echoed my feelings in an earlier post regarding the staging of Craven week in a large stadium – echoes your sentiments.
    Regarding defence – Tank I do not think it is so much as defensive structures but rather the inability to implement a basic of rugby – the tackle. This has nothing to do with a player being in Gr11(as someone suggested earlier with regards to the pathetic performance of the Cheetahs) as tackling is one of the basics you should learn from U10. The same applies to passing – the number of forward passes increases every year because players cannot pass a ball correctly. This for me raises two questions – the standard of coaching at Primary school level when it comes to teaching the basics. I have watched coaching sessions at some primary schools in my area and it is nothing short of a joke. The other one is – what are these highly paid (anything between R500k & R1mill) school Directors of Rugby doing?

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