OPINION: Andy Marinos called recent reports that South Africa was thinking of leaving Super Rugby for the gold mines of Europe “unsubstantiated speculation and simply wrong”. This is feverishly wishful thinking from the chief executive of Sanzaar. The reports are full of substance and make absolutely terrifying reading for New Zealand Rugby.
If South Africa do decide to leave but for a skeleton team or two in Super Rugby, then the competition’s revenue streams will plummet. Such a fall would be enough to bankrupt NZR by 2023. At their current rate of spending, New Zealand Rugby need a significant rise in income from their next Super Rugby television contract just to break even.
Steve Tew said in March, “Post 2020 we’ve got a deficit projected which we can’t live with. That means we either change the expenditure model or find ways to generate more money. We have to diversify revenue streams but also work very hard to ensure the next broadcast negotiations are fruitful.”
But if South Africa decamp to Europe the next broadcast deal will rot away in the sun of wishful thinking. There will not be anything like enough decent fruit to feed New Zealand and Australia.
And you have to ask the question – why wouldn’t South Africa go to Europe. Here are all the points in favour of a move. The compatible time zones mean that the away games will all be on TV at prime times. The flight time from Johannesburg to London is five hours shorter than it is to Auckland.
The combination of the Pro 14 competition and the European Cup are commercially way more valuable than Super Rugby can ever hope to be. It is the economics of population size.
And of course half of South Africa’s top players are already playing in Europe. But in favour of Super Rugby there is, er, taking suggestions from the back – the high standard of New Zealand teams raising standards, you say.
Maybe, but I’m struggling to see that on the balance sheet. South Africa’s fans don’t like seeing their teams being constantly humiliated. There were a lot of empty seats for the Stormers and the Chiefs on Sunday morning, despite the brilliance of the fixture last year, a game which the Stormers won.
South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said late last year, “I can promise you that if we had more teams to move [into Europe] at this stage then we would do so. There is a massive interest. We envisage two more franchises in South African rugby in the near future with the opportunity to play in the north.”
Roux pointed out late last year that South Africa had 373 players playing in European club competitions in the 2016-17 season. It has reached the literal point of, if you can’t beat them, join them. Roux even posited two national teams, one of European-based players for the November international window, one of South African based players for the June window and Rugby Championship.
So I am not sure why Andy Marinos does not think that South Africa is considering jumping ship. Roux’s comments were endorsed by Kevin de Klerk, the head of the Lions, who said, “Maybe ultimately, the millions of pounds on offer in Europe will influence the decision. When this broadcasting deal comes to an end, there’s going to need to be some close negotiations with Sanzaar. From my point of view, I would like to see South Africa remain in Super Rugby, but the European currency is making it difficult.”
NZR is terrified of what South Africa might do. Their fiercest rivals have the option of bankrupting them
Why, oh why, are people lining up to praise NZR for releasing Brad Shields to play for England. Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said, “Credit to New Zealand Rugby for that. They could’ve been bloody-minded and said ‘no, he’s signed it and we’re not going to let him go. But in this instance they’ve recognised that he’s been a great servant for Hurricanes, Wellington and New Zealand rugby – albeit not the All Blacks – and it was the right thing for them to allow him to do that and I applaud them for that.”
Horsefeathers. In this instance NZR were forced to recognise that the contract that Shields and others have signed with them is in breach of World Rugby Regulations.
Regulations 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3 state that a union has “the right” to select a player, that the other union “is obliged to release a Player” and that no union “by contract, conduct or otherwise may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection.”
So when Tew said, “I don’t think you can jump to the conclusion that he is available from our point of view. He is signed to New Zealand and he is contract to play for New Zealand teams until the end of Investec Super Rugby”, he was talking through his hat. Any such contract is in breach of World Rugby regulations.
Maybe it’s a week for bewilderment, but I was similarly flummoxed by the reaction to Joe Moody’s elbow to the throat of Kurtley Beale. It was an act of appalling foul play which led directly to a try, so the New Zealand officiating team of Ben O’Keeffe, Jamie Nutbrown, Paul Williams and Aaron Paterson had zero excuse for missing it.
Disciplinary chairman Nigel Hampton QC, another New Zealander, then reduced Moody’s suspension from four weeks to two weeks because of his “excellent judicial record, good character and guilty plea at the earliest possible opportunity”.
Can I remind my learned friend that in September 2016 Moody was given an official warning for a nasty head-high tackle on Argentina’s Guido Petti. Two months later he was yellow-carded (most neutrals thought it should have been red) for an appalling spear tackle on Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw. Do these constitute an excellent record.
No wonder our friends in South Africa and Australia think New Zealand sometimes play to a different set of rules.