Rugby in the ICU, needs TLC

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!


  1. Must say for me viewership numbers goes hand in hand with performance. The better SA teams do, the more viewers. We are hopeless this year.

    Also feel they must move to a 2 tier system. 10 sides in the top tier with say 4 NZ, 3 SA, 3 Aus and ten in the bottom where they can add the rest they want to add, Japan, South sea etc. Include an automatic relegation/promotion of the bottom and top two as is done in the EPL. Each teams plays every other team which including semi’s and final will make the comp last for 11 to 12 weeks. Before this years tournament even started you knew there could only be two or maybe three sides than can win the thing. The rest only plays to improve their log standings from last year. At least with the two tier thing a team like the rebels might feel they could reach a second tier semi of something.

  2. Without thinking to deeply about the financial implications, etc. of a two tier Super Rugby system, Christian’s suggestion appears EXTREMELY appealing to me!

    The first year a possible split of Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes, Blues, Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds, Force/Rebels, Sharks, Bulls, Stormers, Lions/Cheetahs in tier one and Highlanders, Force/Rebels, Lions/Cheetahs, Kings, 2 x Japanese sides, 2 x Argentinian sides (based in SA or further East!) & 2 x Pacific Island sides? (These obviously just based on this year’s Super Rugby standings thus far but I’d guess would be determined by the 2015 final Super XV standings!)

    Both tiers could operate on a full round robin basis as Super Rugby used to do during the pre-Super XV days.

    The bottom team of tier one & top of tier 2 could then be automatically relegated/promoted respectively and the second last of tier one and second of tier two play promotion/relegation game/s?

    Would be very curious to hear the cons to this type of system…

Comments are closed.