THE first Super 15 reaches its conclusion on Saturday night. Has the new format worked? Is the rugby better for the addition of conferences and increased local derbies, or is it treading water? Who have been the winners and the also-rans?
1. The tournament lacks integrity
The only way you get a truly fair competition is by each team playing home and away against all the other teams. That's not going to happen unless we start the tournament on Boxing Day and schedule some midweek games. At the very least you have to play every team at least once. How do you think the Crusaders feel about the 10 points they didn't get by not being scheduled to play either of the Lions or Rebels? There went the only chance Wellington
will ever have of hosting a Super rugby final (boom boom).
2. But having said that, the two best teams have made the final
No complaints there. It's not quite right that a team should be forced around the globe and back again as the third-placed Crusaders were, but there's no easy way around that. The Reds have been terrific at closing out close games and will need to do so once more to lift the trophy for the first time.
3. Local derbies are great ...
Both Blues-Crusaders matches were gripping, as were both Chiefs-Hurricanes games, albeit with significantly less skill. The same was probably true of South Africa, who had three competitive teams and a fast improver in the Cheetahs. Even Australia had a couple of decent stoushes.
4. ... which only serves to highlight how unattractive some of the matches are
Unless you're paid to cover this stuff, or are determined to wring every drop of value you can get out of your Sky subscription, there is no reason why you'd consider watching, for example, the Lions play the Force.
5. The NZRU has to be concerned about the crowd sizes
When you can attract only 16,000 fans in the biggest city in the country, for the first playoff game hosted by the Blues in eight years, then you're not selling the game properly. The Chiefs crowds were lamentable, as were the Hurricanes. The Highlanders only realised they had fans when they changed the colour of their jerseys.
6. A few more afternoon and early evening kickoffs would be nice
It's completely unscientific, but the rugby just seems better. We realise that night rugby is here to stay, the great god television has spoken, but it wouldn't hurt to mix it up a little.
7. Player of the tournament? That's easy ...
Very close to a Tokoroa quinella. Quade Cooper won in a canter and Keven Mealamu would have been close to second. You might not want Cooper kicking for your life, but if you needed someone to create something out of nothing, he's your man.
8. The refereeing has actually been pretty good (with one or two notable exceptions) ...
There was much ado about forward passes, some of it justified. Stuart Dickinson had a bit of a meltdown in Brisbane, Jonathan Kaplan dudded the Chiefs in Canberra and Waratah Pat O'Connor should never have been sent off by the normally excellent Craig Joubert. All told, though, there were not too many game-breaking decisions.
9. ... but there should be neutral referees, in the geographical sense of the term, for playoff matches
It just makes sense. Take all the inferences, fair or unfair, out of the situation. There's no good reason Craig Joubert should not be in charge on Saturday. Cost cutting is fine for the round robins, but a little ridiculous for the playoffs.
10. The most intriguing story of the tournament took place off the field
The implosion at the Hurricanes was first-rate theatre, capped off with departing hooker Andrew Hore signing, probably inadvertently, the back of a mocked up Tui ad that said something like "Mark Hammett for coach of the year. Yeah right."
11. Maybe not in 2015, but somewhere down the track, Todd Blackadder and Ewen McKenzie should meet as World Cup final coaches
Others have tried and failed to turn around the Reds, McKenzie succeeded. The Waratahs' treatment of him seems shabbier by the day. Blackadder has always had the cattle to be competitive, but he's done an extraordinary job of keeping the Crusaders focused and excuse-free this season.
12. No more halftime interviews, please
Invariably inane, the halftime interview offers nothing and should go the same way as the All Blacks silver jersey.
13. We might not have found a replacement for Daniel Carter yet, but 2012 could be the year of the young first five-eighths
We could have a situation next year in which four of New Zealand's franchises are guided around the park by neophyte No 10s. Lima Sopoaga will battle for game time with Colin Slade at the Highlanders; Beauden Barrett should get a shot at the Hurricanes, especially if Aaron Cruden reunites with Dave Rennie at the Chiefs; and all signs point to Gareth Anscombe taking the reins at the Blues. There's some serious talent in that group.
14. The Super 15 needs Sonny Bill Williams more than he needs the Super 15
It's hard to imagine a player since Jonah Lomu who has captured the public imagination more than SBW. He's in no rush to make a decision on next year - he knows the NZRU will give him as long (and as much) as he needs.
15. ... but we don't need any more play acting
Nobody's advocating a return to oranges at halftime and three cheers for the ref, but it should be hoped that rugby remains free of the type of con jobs Jimmy Cowan and Williams got away with this year.
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