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Ditch South African Teams says Mehrtens

When I read his article the first time, I got a little hot under the collar. Some of the following statements accounted for my agitation:

  • I can’t help thinking we might have lost a little interest in playing South African teams, and that ultimately the future of this competition might be more localised round time zones.
  • New Zealand needs to align with a couple of big economies. It can’t be the UK or France, so we have to look at helping grow the game in Australia. It’s a biggish economy and there’s a lot of money to be tapped into if it’s done well. Japan would be the other natural alignment that could help with the finances.
  • The upshot would be New Zealand aligning closely with Australia and Japan, yet retaining links with South Africa and the UK through the touring structure and test matches.

The reason for the first statement is not the quality of rugby produced by our teams, but rather the inconvenience of having to get up in the early hours of the morning to watch the games. It seems that there is a huge market for PVR merchants, or even DVD recorders in Mehrtens country.

The second statement implies that money is at the root of his argument, although I suspect there are more TV viewers watching rugby in South Africa than in all of Australia and Japan combined. In fact, most of those watching in Australia are probably SA expats.

Money is also the motivation for the last statement. He bases this on the success of the Lions tours. The joke is of course that the Lions tours are so popular because it happens every four years – scarcity brings the crowds to the stadiums, unlike the Super Series which most of us agree is overly populated and should be reduced to 3 teams per country.

  • The provincial championship still has a pretty strong following, and if you’re looking at what Australia and New Zealand needs, maybe it’s that parochialism, that tribalism which is very important.

At first I thought he was chickening out from having to play our teams – none of those he mentions will provide stronger opposition than our sides.

What young Andrew forgets is the rich history of rugby between the Springboks and the All Blacks. There is no way that Australia can ever hope to engender the same fierce competitiveness between the teams and fans alike by involving Australia and the Islanders.

Here is what I agree with:

  • The logistics of involving South Africa are problematic – the travel and time difference – and maybe it would be better for all concerned just to play within our time zone and include teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan. Maybe there could still be post- season involvement with South Africa, but their natural alignment is more with the UK and Europe, in the same time zone.

There is no doubt that we are worse off than the Australasian sides when it comes to time zones. Their visits to each other are no worse than the Stormers playing in Pretoria, for instance, while our sides really battle having to cross something like seven time zones.

If money is the only motivator, as it seems to be these days, we would indeed be better off financially, and physically, playing in a competition similar to the Heineken Cup.

TV rights in Europe probably bring in far more money than it does in New Zealand or Australia. A share of this will be far more lucrative than what we currently get. Who knows, the increased income may even help Western Province stay at Newlands, rather than sell their souls by moving to the World Cup stadium. A half full Newlands looks a lot better than a half full stadium twice its size.

The views of Mehrtens remind me, in a way, of how India considers and conducts themselves in world cricket.

The difference is that India brings in 80% of the revenue, while New Zealand “only” really contributes the best rugby. The day they start faltering in this regard, they have nothing more to fall back on.

I found the following statistics on registered rugby players per country on the internet:

South Africa – 651 146

Australia – 297 389

New Zealand – 146 893

While this does of course put us and, to a lesser degree, Australia, to shame at how the Kiwis dominate world rugby, the long-term implications could be disastrous for New Zealand in terms of being outnumbered.

Particularly if we implement the 60% quota system promised by our esteemed minister of sport(s).

Click here to read the full Mehrtens article.

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