Rugby: Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing
Good news that bosses have cut number of matches
The news that the Currie Cup would be reduced to a single round of pool matches this year was a welcome development and a sign of things to come if rugby is to survive in a competitive commercial environment.
For nearly a decade the mantra of rugby administrators, particularly in South Africa, was that more is more.
“Broadcasters want more rugby to fill 24 hour channels; research shows us the public want more derbies,” administrators screamed when the logic of expanding tournaments and adding more matches was questioned.
So Super Rugby ballooned. From 12 teams two more notches in its belt were let out to accommodate 14 participants as it gorged on the success of the competition.Fourteen then became 15 as the tournament loosened the belt further. Pretty soon it was so intoxicated by the treats broadcasters were paying for, its belly wobbled over its belt now loosened to accommodate 18.
But it was unsightly and unhealthy as people looked away, repulsed by the gluttonous image and empty carbs the tournament delivered.
Super Rugby has cut back on the carbs and slimmed down to 15 teams with possible further cuts to come if the motivation remains. The tournament is middle-aged now, so it requires more work and discipline to shed those extra kilograms.
It might never get back to the 12 notches, but with risk of death from too much gorging, at least it can maintain a decent quality of life in the foreseeable future.
The Currie Cup too has undergone the rugby equivalent of Banting. In a matter of weeks the franchise committee, SA Rugby’s leaner, meaner decision-making body, has nearly halved the length of the tournament to 24 games from 45 in 2017.
Last year stats show (these are supplied by SA Rugby) that a total of 330,000 people attended the 45 matches over the course of the season – an average of 7,333 per game.In total Currie Cup had 4.68 million unique viewers, an average audience of 104,000 per game. These are not catastrophic figures but they highlight that consumers are picky eaters and won’t gulp down any old junk put before them.
Rugby administrators are still coming to terms with the concept of producing better quality in favour of greater quantity.
But the message is clear: let’s provide better offerings, less frequently and more will come to the table.
It has to happen otherwise the sport will wither and die, not least because fans are losing interest but also because players simply cannot sustain the pounding they take. Teams are fielding second- and third-string players most weekends.
The Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project, commissioned by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association in Britain, released in March, revealed some worrying trends.
There was an average of 1.9 injuries per team per match in the English Premier League last season. That’s nearly four players per game with an average severity of a 32-day return-to-play period.
Super Rugby stats on this are not readily available but it’s likely they are similar while the Currie Cup wouldn’t be far behind.So scaling back on matches is an essential step towards player welfare. The decision on the Currie Cup was welcomed by MyPlayers, the organisation that represents professional players in SA.
“There was good consultation with all stakeholders beforehand, and we welcome the new format,” said MyPlayers CEO Eugene Henning.
“It also limits overlapping with other competitions like it did with Super Rugby last year while there is better strength vs strength.
“Player welfare has been taken into account, which we also welcome. The only change we could suggest would be to avoid overlapping with other competitions such as PRO 14 as far as reasonably possible.”
The professional game has been at the trough long enough, slurping in the rich excesses produced by the initial excitement of the sport turning professional.
Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. Rugby is reluctantly moving across to the salad bar to make itself more presentable to the people that really matter in its life – fans.