This is the way Super Rugby ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper

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This is the way Super Rugby ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper

Excesses aside, the competition helped establish professionalism in the game and it deserved a more fitting departure

Sports reporter
Asafo Aumua of the Hurricanes celebrates the win during the round six Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Hurricanes and the Blues at Sky Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, on July 18.
SALUTE Asafo Aumua of the Hurricanes celebrates the win during the round six Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Hurricanes and the Blues at Sky Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, on July 18.
Image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

This week has not so much seen the last nail as the dust thud into Super Rugby’s coffin.

It has been a long time coming.

The moment New Zealand rugby authorities announced earlier this year that they would be pursuing a competition that would be more regionally based around the Tasman, Super Rugby was dead in the water.

And with SA Rugby’s announcement earlier this week that it would be deploying the Bulls, Lions, Stormers and Sharks in an expanded PRO14 competition, Super Rugby was dead and buried.

It was a rather undignified end to a competition that gave SA, New Zealand, Australia and, more recently, Argentina so much. It even brought joy to those who so enthusiastically attended Sunwolves’ matches in Tokyo.

While it went with a whimper, Super Rugby will forever be etched in the collective rugby conscientiousness of the Sanzaar partners.

Super Rugby helped deliver rugby as we know it.

On June 23 1995, the day before the Rugby World Cup final, Sanzar (forerunner to Sanzaar) was formed on the back of a $550m television rights deal with News Corporation. The three participating nations would provide “content” or major matches for 10 years.

Super Rugby was to be the tournament that helped establish professionalism in the game in the southern hemisphere from 1996.

When Wellington and Auckland got the ball rolling in the competition’s first clash in Palmerston North on March 1 1996, it signalled the start of a 24-year (discounting 2020) odyssey for the game’s players, administrators and fans in the south.

The tournament didn't just help set professional standards. The new, fast-paced, high-intensity game that was played largely on hard, dry surfaces meant players from SA, New Zealand and Australia could steel themselves for the rigours of Test rugby.

Soon Super Rugby was revered up close and admired from afar. Mostly the northern hemisphere looked upon it with much envy, but some dismissively derided the high-scoring games as basketball.

What Super Rugby and the Tri Nations (forerunner to the Rugby Championship) indubitably did was raise the standard of the Test game in the south. It meant England, France, Ireland, Wales and Scotland became easy pickings, a fact no more glaringly illustrated than in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) honours roll. England remain the only country outside the Sanzaar alliance to have won the trophy.

But Super Rugby didn’t just endow its combatants with vast lung-busting ability, it also helped them overcome the vagaries of long-distance travel. The sheer distance and length of time players travelled every year in the two southern hemisphere competitions no doubt stood them in good stead when they reported for duty at the quadrennial RWC.

Convoluted competition structures and perennial tinkering further served to devalue the former standard bearer of all competitions outside the Test arena.

In that regard Super Rugby served SA, New Zealand and Australia well. It was perhaps fitting that Argentina’s Jaguares broke new ground when they qualified for the last ever final against the competition’s most decorated team, the Crusaders last year.

In the end, however, the excesses that helped make Super Rugby great also helped bring about its demise. Even before Covid-19 silenced jet engines the competition’s yeti-like carbon footprint made it less desirable.

Convoluted competition structures and perennial tinkering further served to devalue the former standard bearer of all competitions outside the Test arena.

Covid-19 brought further complication just as the competition was wheeled for another trip to the operating theatre.

Super Rugby deserved a better departure. There was no grand finale, fireworks, fanfare or final embrace. It, perhaps fittingly against the backdrop of Covid-19, went quickly and quietly.

RIP Super Rugby.

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