We are in a small restaurant in central Sydney fetchingly named “Chez Sanzar”.
Restaurateur: “Cook! You’ve been serving this dish you call ‘Supreme á la Douzaine’ for nine years now, and the clientele are telling me they’re sick to death of it. It’s not spicy enough, it’s always the same year after year, and to put it bluntly, it looks like a pile of grey sludge. And to make matters worse, it’s the ONLY option on the fucking menu!”
Cook: “Ooer, right. Well let me get my sous-chefs together and we’ll come up with some whizz-bang ideas boss.”
[ Much, much later..]
Cook: “Ok boss, we’ve thrashed it out. It wasn’t easy, but we think we’ve got it cracked. It’s a corker.”
Restaurateur: “I’m positively dribbling down my tie here Cook. Spill the beans..”
Cook: “Well [pauses for imaginary fanfare] – we’ve decided to give them exactly the SAME DISH but with 40% more of it heaped on the plate! How’s that!!?”
Restaurateur: [head in hands]: “I’m ruined..”
Should we be shocked at the recent SANZAR statement, completely bereft as it is, of any vestige of vision or imagination to take Southern Hemisphere Rugby forward for the next half-decade?
Probably not. The people who are now in control of our game are “money types” and lawyers. They didn’t get where they are today by having touchy-feely empthy with the grass-roots of a game that whole countries full of folks created from scratch from a passion for rugby. No. These people inhabit boardrooms, study balance-sheets, and like to think in unimaginative linear modes, where predictability of revenue is the paramount driving force.
But the proposal as trumpeted in the media in the last day or so is a sad indictment of the way the game is headed, and marks yet another chance missed to really do something worthwhile to energise a game which is flagging.
But it isn’t flagging, some say. Look at attendances for example, and look at TV viewing figures.
The trouble with these statistics is they are misleading, as are all statistics used to actually prove a point, rather than just illustrate a conclusion arrived at by a separate logical proof or evidence.
There are many things wrong with them, but in summary the attendances are totally meaningless when you have a set of rugby fans faced with no choice but the only game in town. Of course they still go and see it. What other choice is there? As to TV viewing figures, where do those stats come from? From TV companies eager to keep control and the status quo, that’s who. In any event, what do they mean, and who did they canvas, and how many people. We hear these figures bandied about by people with their own axes to grind, and we’d be fools to take them at face value, much less attribute meaning to them and make important decisions based on them.
It’s plain enough to me, for instance, that the Tri-Nations was a dead duck after a couple of seasons for the very reason that the old adage familiarity breeds contempt is true. Playing South Africa and Australia so often, and in the very same format is a killer of passion. In fact I despise the Tri-Nations for effectively removing the massive excitement I used to feel for a test series against the Bokke, and making it into a mere “league game” every year. Same with the Bledisloe Cup. It used to be contested over a genuine series, but now it’s just a tack-on; a marketing adjunct not even played for in a real test series anymore.
As for the Super 12. What’s “super” about it these days? The first and second seasons were Ok, but after that it turned rapidly into a rugbython – something more to be endured than enjoyed. Turning the handle every week as battered players turned up and turned their mistake-ridden tricks for the cameras in the cold, wet shadowy twilight zone of the endless night-games we’re forced to put up with.
In short, the Super 12 is just “product”, like turning the handle on a sausage machine and watching little Super 12 games pop out the end all neatly sealed, bland and featureless. Ka-ching, there goes the SANZAR cash register for another happy sale of a round of Super-12 sausages. “Thankyou ma’am, come back next week – yes your diet is just fine if you consume these every week for the next decade. You’ll never get sick of these beauties!”
Well recently there may have been a worry that the punters were getting sick of the taste of bland Super-12 sausages, so SANZAR have come up with the perfect solution by making them each 40% longer. Brilliant minds at work.
The statement recently that All Blacks would be quite eligible to play in the NPC, and not separated off as previously touted in the media now comes into focus. With 94 Super 14 games instead of just 69 with the Super-12, plus an extended Tri-Nations, it means that no All Blacks will be able to even conceive of playing NPC rugby, unless they happened to be the Six Miilion Dollar Man. More subterfuge from the NZRFU.
SANZAR have quite obviously missed the bus. There was a chance to really look at rugby in the region and revitalize the landscape. It would also have provided an exciting package for News Corp. or whoever to look at, and provided a lifeline for Island Rugby.
Instead of paying lip-service to All Blacks playing NPC, when they quite obviously won’t be in practice, SANZAR should have gone for a complete separation of NPC from international programs, and run the test matches in parallel. This would have freed up time for a more expanded S12, to Super-NN including a Pacific Island team, an Argentinian franchise, and a Japanese Franchise. With an extra two teams one from Australia and one from South Africa this would make it a Super-17. And plans should already be on the drawing-board for including The Big One – the USA, in the next format after the 5 years of Super-17.
The tournament format could then have been looked at, taking into account travelling logistics and arranged around Pools and short tours. Extra interest could also have been provided by enhancing the playoffs, and making these into small tournaments rotated around each of the countries by turn, and involving all of the teams no matter where they finished in the pools, via provision of Cup, Bowl and Plate finals as in Sevens.
Hell, there are probably dozens of possibilities to revitalise and accomodate logistics, but SANZAR hasn’t even looked at basic ideas like changing the playoff format apparently.
No, good old linear accountant-think has raised its wizened, wrinked brow and in a cracked voice pronounced what it thinks is best for managing the dusty old ledgers of the SANZAR book-keepers and scribes.
These people have demonstrated that they have absolutely no feel for rugby at all, and the kind of unimaginative rubbish that they’ve recently come out with is just going to drive another nail into the coffin of the game, especially out in the Islands.
Of course there will still be those statistics produced by people with a vested interest in reporting success – TV and Unions, to inform us that what we’re seeing is actually fantastic, and a great privilege.
Anyone for tennis?