‘Was that it?’ Blink and you can miss it as those wanting to enjoy the sport are left wanting. Two rugby games is not enough. The Super Rugby Aotearoa product is bereft of the volume and choice it once had.
While the competition began to reduce voluntarily, the Coronavirus certainly took that idea and downsized it to the max! Now, Kiwi rugby fans have to settle for two matches per week…..only an appetizer, leaving many wondering ‘what else is there to fill my appetite?’
True, in a few weeks, Club rugby will raise it’s head so that genuine Grassroots fans can look forward to a Friday night taster, followed by their local club rugby across Saturday. Add to that either a Super Rugby fixture on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon and it might just fill that thirst for footy but, it is still well below the choice in the Northern Hemisphere.
After two rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa, just four games have been completed. Good games mind you, although at times the number of defenders beaten only shows how the early part of the calendar can have some of the highest aggregate scorelines. Coaches will be muttering to assistants that ‘systems have to improve guys’.
The action was fantastic though – Jona Nareki (see main picture) scoring a hatrick will satisfy those watching. Even while fans cheer and clap, their options are too thin on volume that an antiphany could creep in. A sudden realization that for the near-future, this is all you will get. [A scary thought] where they once argued there was too much, has compressed so far in the other direction you now ask ‘is two enough’?
And surely the communal answer is No.
‘Two is not enough’ – Super Rugby Aotearoa too thin on volume
Maybe the change from a glut in 2017 to a famine in 2021 has happened so fast, the consumer is now just realizing that ‘two is not enough’. Obviously, not by choice of New Zealand Rugby. They would have liked to reduce from the three conference system down to something like a Pacific-centric competition that would still involve 10-12 teams. Then, most would be fully satisfied.
Yet Covid has stripped the selection right out of the heart of Super Rugby. Not discounting the Super Rugby Australia option yet, far less are watching from New Zealand, than are viewing the Kiwi version from offshore. So maybe those observers are the ones to judge – are fans in the UK rising at 4am to watch the Crusaders host the Hurricanes? Yes, they do, yet once that was over, there was no more choice. That was it!
A better comparison is the current Friday night selection.
Usually a double-header, with New Zealand (NZ) always launching the night, and Australia (AU) following up. Last weekend, that included a 61-10 mauling from the Brumbies. High-scoring rugby, although the Tahs defensive coach was immediately under fire from Sydney critics.
More variety required
An example that showed how not to schedule your limited game volume though, was the beginning of the Super AU season. For some unknown reason, both games [remember there are only two each weekend] occurred on a Friday night. Game one in Queensland, and the following game way across the vast continent in Western Australia.
Picture this; for a New South Wales fan, they watched a game at dinner time, then had to wait half an hour after the first game ended, for their second and only option. As well, scheduled a week before the NZ season opened – way too thin an offer for fans raised on six or seven games per weekend. Not to mention no Club games or tournaments to speak of.
How the Australian stakeholders expected to build any loyalty if they are relying on viewers being satisfied with such minimal offerings.
Of course, this will only suffice for one more season. Following on from the horrifically limited 202 offerings which fans lapped up, this year some will be tempted by the wider selection of others; NRL, Japan Top League, or the higher volume of competition in the Northern hemisphere.
What more can Super AU or Super Rugby Aotearoa offer?
Apart from doing nothing and watching their numbers static and possibly fall, rugby should think of more. There have to be options that have been discussed because offering four games per weekend will soon be overwhelmed by other organizations.
That shouldn’t be allowed to occur. There could be some additional and supplementary inclusions that will flank the scheduling of both competitions, to support the local content.
Promote the senior club rugby competitions. This can include Shute Shield (NSW), Hospital Challenge Cup (QLD), Gallaher Shield (AKL), and Canterbury Metro Cup leagues
Include women’s rugby as a separate, yet fully-funded model. Based on the Super W model yet comprising amateur sides in a provincial challenge series
Utilise some of the wider franchise players in a Rugby Tens competition. Even if a shortened format does not reflect the XVs structure, using alternate kits from this season or last years, at least it can provide those players the experience which will reward the franchise in years to come.
And there’s more
And that is only three suggestions. Some easier to construct than others, and as important as it is for unions to develop. The broadcasters will see benefits on engineering the coverage. Club rugby broadcasts might already be available or can be implemented more easily. A women’s competition would require those players to be at performance levels that can offer benefits, and not just a peacemeal offering.
The development level is from available resources, and if not ten-a-side, then 15 players who can each both demonstrate their potential. That is an obvious goal, so these player’s should be fit and motivated; only if the first pick sides can bare the drain on their rosters.
Without some effort, the bereft choice is going to fade fan’s focus on ‘getting up’ for two games alone. Club and grassroots will naturally supplement, as will Japan Top League (which is played in Pacific friendly times). If not that, then more and more options might have to fill the void.
If these efforts can be made, or if other options are utilized then Super Rugby might still provide rugby at full volume. Not diminished or thin. Something that holds fan’s loyalty until a wider competition can be deised in the very near future.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images