I’ve been fairly unambiguous about how bad the South African teams have been in this year’s SuperXV. Woeful would be the polite term.
But, and it’s an interesting and big but, other South African teams have done very well this year. To wit, winning the Commonwealth Games 7s. Further to wit, winning the IRB Junior World Champs.Embed from Getty Images
What’s going on?
The answer seems to be that South Africa is developing more good players than ever, but they’re not holding on to them for their regular domestic competitions. A big chunk of their best developed players are playing in the northern hemisphere, not the southern hemisphere, competitions. The Heineken Cup final between Toulon and Saracens in June, for example, featured 12 current or former Springboks.
It’s about the money, of course.
And that puts the spotlight on two issues of fundamental interest for New Zealand (and Australian) rugby.
- should the SuperRugby/Rugby Championship competitions be a a hemisphere split, or a timezone split? In practical terms, is South Africa’s future with Europe, and the Anzac future with the Pacific Rim?
- should players in other competitions be considered for selection in the All Blacks and Wallabies?
The second question seems more a matter for the Aussies than for us. Their problem at the elite level is depth. Adam Ashley-Cooper is a very, very fine mid-fielder, for example, but wouldn’t they just love to have Matt Giteau (now with Toulon) in the selection mix as well? As a country with a broad foundation in football sports (league, Aussie Rules, soccer as well as rugby), they’re always going to be producing a crop of teenagers with the right skills and attitude. But those other sports are siphoning off a big proportion of the deep end of the talent pool.
The NZRU seems to have got the balance right here by insisting that All Blacks have to be New Zealand-based, while tailoring contracts for the creme de la creme (McCaw, Carter, Reid) to make sure they don’t get poached by the uber-money of Europe. As long as we keep up a steady stream of talent coming through, it’s a good thing not a bad thing that so many kiwis can find mid-career options offshore.
On the first question, I reckon the difficulty is that it’s best for the Springboks to be in the Rugby Championship, but it would probably be better for South African franchises to be included in European leagues. They’re not doing anybody any favours by carrying on in Super Rugby if they’re not going to be competitive.
I wonder what Rupert Murdoch thinks about it all?