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By winning Super Rugby Aotearoa, their fifth Super Rugby title in a row, the Crusaders may actually be contributing to the demise of our national game.
At the beginning of a season, sports fans have only one wish — that, come the business end of the season, their team will be competing for silverware.
In our heart of hearts, Highlanders fans know, year after year, that that is beyond our team. A decent number of our squad are players who have been rejected by the other franchises. Sometimes — Malakai Fekitoa comes to mind — that works to our advantage. More often, it means the Highlanders end up playing against teams that are bigger, faster and stronger across the park.
The Crusaders have developed an impressive machine and deserve to be commended for this.
Canterbury and Tasman both compete in the premier division of the National Provincial Championship. These teams effectively serve as development squads for the Crusaders, who can identify and develop players at a level just below that of Super Rugby. In contrast, the teams in the Highlanders region — Otago and Southland — battle away in the inferior championship division.
Even though their stadium pales in comparison to ours, Christchurch has three times the population of Dunedin and, I imagine, the Crusaders have significantly higher sponsorship revenue. According to someone I know who works within the Highlanders organisation, the Crusaders have five fulltime staff who work on talent identification and recruitment. Due to significantly fewer resources, the Highlanders coaching staff have to do that on top of all their other responsibilities. This factor alone makes it extremely difficult for the Highlanders to compete with our northern neighbours.
More mature competitions than Super Rugby try to spread talent around their competitions in order to level the playing field and create the possibility that most of the teams have a chance of winning the title in any given season.
The National Basketball Association in the United States does it through a player draft system. Australia’s National Rugby League does it with a salary cap. In the seven seasons from 1999 to 2005, seven different teams won the NRL. In the 21 completed seasons this century, 12 different teams have walked away with the title.
The salary cap isn’t great for teams who want to establish a dynasty, but it’s a fantastic mechanism for fans who want their team to have a realistic shot at glory every season.
I believe the solution lies in spreading the talent across New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams. Each franchise should only be able to protect 15 players and then select, one at a time, the rest of the players who will make up their squad. This system would generate a lot more interest in the formation of teams, which can’t be a bad thing, and give every franchise the opportunity to be in the mix at the business end of the season.
Super Rugby is in need of a fix.
One of the best ways to kill off interest in a competition is having the same team win it all the time and Super Rugby has reached this point.
Diehard supporters will always remain faithful, but that doesn’t put enough bums on seats.
New Zealand Rugby needs to take drastic action to strengthen opposition to the Crusaders or interest in Super Rugby will continue to decline.
- Randal Scott lives in Dunedin.