Opinion Piece: South Africa Must Look North

 The arrival of the Southern Kings and Cheetahs up north may prove to be a masterstroke for rugby in the country.

Aside from Johan Ackerman’s Lions, South Africa’s Super Rugby sides have been as predictably abysmal as ever in 2017. A ridiculous schedule, lack of belief, as well as the travel factor, meant that once again South Africa’s sides finished yet another season as also-rans. With the Southern Kings and Cheetahs set to join the Celtic Pro14 later this year, it’s hard not to see the rest of SA following suit in the near future.

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All Black Influence on Super Rugby
Over the past two years, New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides have competed in exactly 100-matches against teams from South Africa‚ Australia‚ Argentina, and Japan - and won 86 of them. Such is the dominance NZ rugby holds over the competition, that the Hurricanes’ victory in last season’s Grand Final meant that all five of the Kiwi franchises have claimed the title at least once – indeed, this year’s champions, the Crusaders, claimed a record eighth crown when they beat the Lions in the decider in Johannesburg.

Is Super Rugby Harming SA Rugby?
In stark contrast to NZ’s record, only three Australian teams have picked up winners’ medals in the competition to date (the Brumbies in 2001 & ‘04, the Reds in 2011, and the Waratahs in 2014) and just one side from South Africa (the Bulls in 2007, ’09 & ’10). Japan’s Sunwolves and Argentina’s Jaguares have only been in the tournament for two seasons now and, realistically, neither look set to win it anytime soon.

A quick glance at these statistics is enough to support the viewpoint that Super Rugby is simply not doing SA rugby any good. Its farcical format and convoluted schedule is constantly being criticized and, quite frankly, has become largely irrelevant.

As Sanzaar continued to increase the number of sides in the tournament, so the quality of the competition began to steadily decline. Matches were scheduled to appease large television contracts, rather than to decide the strongest provinces in the southern hemisphere, and the continued inclusion of new franchises (who have proved to be far from competitive) has contributed to an increasingly disinterested public.

3 Teams Axed
But where does this all leave South Africa? SANZAAR recently announced its decision to cut three franchises from the eighteen-team tournament, in a bid to win back public support and revert back to its former “Super 15” format. It was eventually announced that SA’s very own Southern Kings and Cheetahs (as well as a third Super-side, believed to be the Western Force of Australia) would receive the axe and while this was initially met with a great public outcry, the end-result may not be all that bad after all.

It was officially announced in July that the Southern Kings and Cheetahs had joined the Celtic Pro12 (now Pro14) ahead of the 2017/18 European season. This will allow for the two sides to experience new, Kiwi-less opposition and has been met with much fanfare by Saffa supporters. The competition itself is simple enough, played across two conferences, and will commence in September with the final set for May 26th.

By avoiding the New Zealanders, jet-lag (which is set to be less of a factor flying to and from the northern hemisphere), as well as experiencing a fresh challenge, the Kings and Cheetahs may well work back some confidence into a rather yellow-bellied South African rugby fraternity. With the current Super Rugby broadcast deal set to expire in 2020, Saffa success up north may finally force Saru to pull out of the competition once and for all, while allowing for the rest of the South African contingent to join up with their two cousin franchises in Europe.

Given SA’s dismal record in Super Rugby to date, the arrival of the Southern Kings and Cheetahs up north may prove to be a masterstroke for rugby in the country. Should they perform well in Europe, it will be hard for SARU not to consider throwing their lot in with the Celts in the coming years. Fingers crossed.

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Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net

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