Changes in the formation of the competition have had some unforeseen knock-on effects.
Super Rugby returned for the 2019 season last month but questions remain as to whether the southern hemisphere club championship is a competition on the rise or one that is slowly dying in popularity and relevance.
The competition was cut from 18 to 15 teams, in 2018, in a bid to make it more competitive, but that failed to create an improved product and the same issues of too many one-sided contests remained.
The field contains five sides from New Zealand, four each from South Africa and Australia, and one each from Argentina and Japan, who have been given a slot to try and grow the popularity of Super Rugby in Asia.
It is a complex competition that straddles 16 time zones with matches on four continents, leaving players exhausted and, especially later in the season, under-performing as a result.
Teams send under-strength squads to play some away matches, wary of the impact the travel will have on their players, and that means the paying public, or viewers on television, often get sub-standard entertainment and fixture outcomes that are too easy to predict.
Experts can debate the standard of the rugby on the pitch, and many agree it is declining outside of New Zealand, at least, and the reality is that people in South Africa and Australia, especially, are getting turned off.
Between 2015 and 2017 South African teams saw their gates diminish by 25% and in Australia, they went down 20% over the same period.
In 2017, Super Rugby matches saw, on average, stadiums filled to only 38.2% of capacity, meaning more than 60% of seats were vacant. Part of this is to do with bigger venues now being used, but it creates poor optics for viewers and potential sponsors when all you see are empty seats.
With a broadcast deal that is up for renewal in 2020, Super Rugby organizers need to come up with a plan to make it more entertaining and, if not quite get bums back on seats, get viewers more switched on to the product.
There had been widespread media reports that the competition could shed another unnamed side, possibly the under-performing Sunwolves of Japan, and drop to 14 teams. Governing body SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) say that while no decision has been made yet, they want clarity soon.
“We don’t have the luxury of time on our side and if there are going to be any changes to the competition structure we need to know what that is going to look like because we’ve got to start some face-to-face engagement with our broadcasters during the course of 2019,” SANZAAR Chief Executive Andy Marinos told The New Zealand Herald.
“We’ve done feasibility studies around putting teams in North America and the Pacific Islands and we’ve seen the metrics aren’t really stacking up for us at this point in time but that doesn’t mean we won’t look at taking our product into those markets in the form of regular season games or preseason friendlies.”
Marinos went on to suggest that the single-stream, round-robin format was the best way forward, in his opinion.
“When we get to the business end of the season, you want to know everybody has played everyone and they’ve all had a similar path to get to the finals so that the finals series has integrity,” he said.
“Those have been big pieces for us to look at; how do we increase the competitiveness and how do we get the integrity back. Certainly a round robin format would deliver that.”
It is expected that a decision on the future of the competition will be made at a SANZAAR board meeting in March.
South African Rugby Chief Executive Officer Jurie Roux has previously weighed into the debate, saying he believes the optimum number of teams for Super Rugby was 12, which the competition had from 1995 to 2005, before expanding in what is now viewed as an ill-fated move. “In the end, the ultimate competition was probably the Super 12,” Roux said at a press conference. “To be honest, we probably should’ve never moved away from it but there were different reasons for that.
“Over the last decade or so, every union had different reasons for supporting the expansion. Some of it was purely selfishness, others had a clear mandate from the union on high performance.
“Some of it was politics and others purely about making revenue. Whatever the reason, it ended up being a tournament that if we don’t change it, we’ll have serious issues.”
The expansion brought with it a decision to put teams into conferences, which has proven complex and not popular with audiences.
There are also the sporting considerations, as New Zealand teams the Wellington Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs ended with more points than the Lions (South Africa) and New South Wales Waratahs (Australia) on the overall log in 2018, but finished below them as a team from each country is guaranteed a place in the top three on the table to ensure they get a home quarterfinal.
In 2017, the ACT Brumbies from Australia were allocated a home quarterfinal despite all five New Zealand sides having obtained more points than them in the pool stages. It created a giant mess that was viewed as unsporting and damaging to the integrity of the competition.
It appears clear that the best way to save Super Rugby is to cull more teams and go back to a single stream, returning the competition to how it operated at its peak.
With more competitive games, hopefully viewers are switched on, again.
John Smit leaves everything on the field
A game does not end when the final whistle blows. Its impact reverberates throughout a community when the stadiums are empty. Former rugby captain John Smit, in his role as CEO of a security company, has ensured that the tournaments are alive and kicking.
As captain of the World Cup-winning Springboks in 2007, John Smit was, “Mr Right Place, Right Time”. He was the centerpiece that connected management to the players and the players to the fans.
His talents have evolved into the commercial sphere, where he now sits and curates a partnership that could save rugby and have a much more meaningful impact on the communities whose lives revolve around club rugby.
Security and maintenance company SSG Group – for which Smit is acting CEO – were, in March, named co-sponsors for the Gold Cup, a rugby tournament steeped in the blood and sweat of community involvement.
“A lot of our clientele are the mines in the North West and Limpopo area,” Smit says.
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“Those communities are massively passionate about the game and we wanted to show that this company not only wanted to leave a footprint within the community using SMEs but also, we wanted to help keep a tournament alive that is quite important to a lot of them.
“It was really just to show our gratitude for the community that we were allowed to work within. I met the Rustenburg Impala Rugby Club guys a few weeks ago and rugby is really important around that mining area.
“It’s a massive part of their culture and their working environment. When this thing happened, Jorge Ferreira (SSG Group CEO) called me to get my thoughts on what this sponsorship would entail. I said to him it’s an unbelievable partnership because everyone wants to go straight to the top but this is where the real rugby starts and ends.”
Fans pack the creaky stands, making a ruckus and cheering uninhibitedly for their sons, fathers and uncles as they put their bodies through the dirt for the sheer pleasure of it.
In most communities where club rugby is played, it’s the only recreational outlet with the gravitas that pulls 12,000 people to a game, like last year’s Pirates Grand Challenge Final between Villagers Worcester and Roses United in Worcester last year.
Put into perspective, 14,000 people watched the Stormers play the Lions at Newlands in February. Goliath-eque franchise budgets were brought to size by passionate, ordinary folk.
“There was a guy that came to one of the games on horseback. There were so many people at the game that he could not see, so he watched the game on his horse to get a view,” Smit says.
You can only get that at Gold Cup games. It’s something magically unique. These people play for free, they play for the community and they play for each other.
“The games are well-supported because the communities have a vested interest in the game – their husbands, uncles, brothers, friends, cousins, employees or employers are participating in them. Everyone comes.”
The Gold Cup portfolio landed on Smit’s desk by chance. One might say there was some alchemy involved. Ferriera’s untimely death, last year, meant Smit was redeployed from shareholding company Richmark Holdings to hold the SSG fort.
When he got to Ferreira’s seat, he saw the founder’s plans for the partnership with SA Rugby were complete. The baby was in the right hands. Smit wasted precious little time and stamped the deal.
In a time of austerity, load-shedding and budget cuts, Smit saw the forest for the trees.
“I can’t take credit for that because it was the brainchild of our previous CEO,” he says.
“I am delighted that I am a part of this and that things have worked out in such a way that made it possible. This was pioneered by Jorge Ferreira and supported by two other companies (Blu Approved and M4Jam) who made it possible.
“The unique positioning, the timing of my transition into SSG, I don’t think there would have been anyone else who understood what the Gold Cup means to this country and the communities that hold it dear.
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“It’s hard to quantify that commercially because it is more of an emotive vibe. These communities have passionate people who stick with the game after school. They are the backbone because they are not playing for money.”
Indeed, if it isn’t a man atop his steed looking for a glimpse of the action, it’s a “tannie” (older woman) selling boerewors rolls on the grass bank. It’s kids running freely along the touchline, collecting balls that have been kicked too long and returning them to their hometown heroes.
It’s a second and third chance at the game for players who’ve been hooved by professional rugby’s cut-throat contracting system – such as MB Lusaseni, College Rovers captain and former Lions lock. It’s a combination of all these factors that make a mineworker spend his or her free time in the hot sun, absorbing the Gold Cup.
HUGO BOSS Partners With Porsche To Bring Action-Packed Racing Experience Through Formula E
Brought to you by Hugo Boss
HUGO BOSS and Porsche have partnered to bring an action-packed racing experience to the streets of the world’s major cities through Formula E.
Formula E is known for its fascinating races globally. The partnership will have a strong focus on the future of motorsport. In doing so the races will host a unique series for the development of electric vehicle technology, refining the design, functionality and sustainability of electric cars while creating an exciting global entertainment brand.
HUGO BOSS which boasts a long tradition of motorsports sponsorship – has been successfully engaged in the electric-powered racing series since the end of 2017.
In this collaboration, HUGO BOSS brings its 35 years of experience and expertise in the motorsport arena to Formula E, as well as the dynamic style the fashion brand is renowned for.
Mark Langer HUGO BOSS, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) says that though they have been working successfully with motorsports over the years, he is exceptionally pleased that as a fashion brand they are taking the cooperation to new heights.
“As a fashion brand, we are always looking at innovative approaches to design and sustainability. When we first encountered Formula E, we immediately saw its potential and we are pleased to be the first apparel partner to support this exciting new motorsport series,” he says.
The fashion group is also the official outfitter to the entire Porsche motorsports team worldwide.
The fascination with perfect design and innovation, along with the Porshe and Hugo Boss shared passion for racing, inspired Hugo Boss to produce the Porsche x Boss capsule collection.
Its standout features include premium leather and wool materials presented in the Porsche and HUGO BOSS colors of silver, black and red.
Since March, a range of menswear styles from the debut capsule collection is available online and at selected BOSS stores. In South Africa the first pieces of the capsule will come as a part of the FW 19 collection.
Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Formula E says he is confident that the racers will put their best foot forward on the racecourse.
“This new partnership will see the team on the ground at each race dressed with a winning mindset and ready to deliver a spectacular event in cities across the world. As the first Official Apparel Partner of the series, we look forward to seeing the dynamic style and innovation on show that BOSS is renowned for,” says Agag.
Oliver Blume CEO of Porsche AG says Formula E is an exceptionally attractive racing series for motorsport vehicles to develop.
“It offers us the perfect environment to strategically evolve our vehicles in terms of efficiency and sustainability. We’re looking forward to being on board in the 2019/2020 season. In this context, the renowned fashion group HUGO BOSS represents the perfect partner to outfit our team.”
For Xolani Luvuno Its Mind Over Matter
A story of hopelessness, drugs and crime and an athlete who conquered land and sea, on crutches.
Xolani Luvuno will enter this year’s prestigious New York City Marathon flying the flag of South Africa, but this is no ordinary athlete; he will complete the run on crutches.
Luvuno’s story is one of hopelessness, drugs and crime, but then a life turned around in the most remarkable fashion as he became an ambassador for good; taking on, and defeating, some of the most grueling athletic pursuits on the planet. All with one leg.
Luvuno continues to defy the odds and, ahead of his journey to New York, will also compete in a full IRONMAN African Championship event, in April, which includes a 3.8km swim, a 90km bicycle ride and a 42.2km run.
That would present the mightiest of challenges for an able-bodied athlete, but Luvuno must do all of that having had his right leg amputated 11 years ago, after he developed cancer in the bone.
The 34-year-old has already proven his superhuman mental and physical strength after completing the 89km Comrades Marathon on crutches last year, and followed that up by completing a half IRONMAN event in East London in South Africa earlier this year.
“I started running as a distraction from the substance abuse that had gripped me earlier in my life; it focused my mind in other areas and gave me a purpose,” Luvuno tells FORBES AFRICA.
“The events are one part of it, but the training is what helped me the most. In the townships, a lot of the drinking and alcohol abuse happens over the weekend, and that is when I would go running. I would head out with my crutches in the morning, and by the time I had finished, I would just crash at home and sleep the rest of the day.
“It provided me with a new interest away from drugs and alcohol and motivated me to do something with my life. I really needed a change at the time, and running provided me with that.”
Luvuno’s teenage years were difficult. Falling into the grip of substance abuse, he ended up living under a bridge in Pretoria and spent five years in jail, having been convicted of housebreaking.
He would beg, steal and borrow to fuel his drug habit, before his life was turned around by a chance meeting with Hein Venter, at a traffic light in 2016, who took pity on Luvuno.
Venter gave him a job in his perfume factory and it was from there that his running career was born.
“I could see his potential and I wanted him to meet new people, away from his old life. Good people, normal people who he could use as role models,” Venter says.
“We created a running club within the company and, literally overnight, two-thirds of the employees took up running. It was amazing! Xolani had his challenges, but he didn’t want to miss out and started to go out with them too.”
Venter arranged formal accommodation for Luvuno in Mamelodi and had a prosthetic leg made.
He was later sponsored with a running blade, an attachment for his leg that should have enabled him to compete with able-bodied athletes. But, as a result of the long-distances involved in marathon running, he began to develop sores and returned to running with crutches.
But his progress was incredible, and within 18 months, he was lining up in one of the world’s most famous road races, the Comrades Marathon, albeit five hours before the scheduled start of the race, completing the event in 15 hours and 50 minutes.
“I always finish a race, no matter how long it takes me, I will never quit,” Luvuno says. “I always want to push myself further, to break down new barriers. After I completed the Comrades, I needed a new challenge.
“That is when I turned to IRONMAN, though cycling and swimming were completely new to me. But after four or five months of intense training, of really hard work, I was ready.
“Now I want to complete a full IRONMAN in April, that is my next challenge, and after that, it is the New York [City] Marathon. My entry for that has been accepted, it will be an amazing experience.”
Luvuno’s story is an incredible tale of triumph over adversity and how, even in the depths of despair, there is always the opportunity to change the situation. He is now also a motivational speaker, mostly sharing his story with school children, many of them handicapped themselves.
“It is something I have a passion for, it allows me to give something back,” he says.
“There was a time when I was not society’s ally and I accept that, but that is in the past now and I can only look forward to the future. Maybe my story will help some youngsters gain perspective and take on the valuable lessons that I have learned.”
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