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Ken Borland



Bravely entering a new world is paying off for SA Rugby 0

Posted on June 21, 2022 by Ken

When SA Rugby bravely shifted away from their long-standing relationship with Sanzaar and SuperRugby and decided to throw in their lot with European club competition, there was plenty of uncertainty as to just how well the move would pan out.

Now, with the United Rugby Championship in its final weekend of round-robin action and three South African sides in the quarterfinals already, one can only say it has been a great success.

It’s been a tremendous journey for the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls, and even the Lions have shown their worth in being way more competitive than many expected. The tentative first steps into the URC were made when the country was still in the grips of Covid restrictions, the franchises were without their Springboks and they had to start their campaigns in Europe in the northern hemisphere autumn.

It was a chastening introduction and there were understandable fears over whether SA Rugby had made the right decision. Wiser heads pointed to the circumstances above and pleaded patience.

And how richly that patience has been rewarded with the four South African teams tenaciously dominating the second half of the competition, making their home stadiums fortresses and producing some thrilling rugby in the process.

Of all the sports in South Africa, rugby has probably borne the brunt of Covid, given how they were the code which was most accustomed to having big crowds in stadiums.

With at least one URC home quarterfinal guaranteed, wouldn’t it be marvellous for that team/s to have the backing of a properly sold-out stadium?

SA Rugby have been patience personified when it comes to working with government and their time-lines in terms of Covid protocols. But having seen the British and Irish Lions tour almost ruined last year, one totally understands their frustration at how slowly the wheels are now turning to get spectators fully back into stadiums.

If only Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa was as preoccupied with something that really will contribute to the economy, rather than that stupid monumental flag of his.

You always see politicians front and centre, ensuring they are in the limelight, when our sports teams enjoy global success. They piggyback so hard on the triumphs that you cannot help but wonder whether they believe they played an integral part in achieving the result.

The truth, of course, is that politicians do very little for sport in this country. You only need to look at facilities, especially at grassroots level, to see that. And yet they bask in the nation-building and social cohesion that sporting success brings, as if they had a key role in ensuring those outcomes. It is just another example of the parasitic tendencies of our politicians.

But even without capacity crowds in South Africa just yet, one feels the URC will go from strength-to-strength.

On the last weekend of round-robin play, defending champions Leinster are guaranteed to finish first on the log, but little else is certain. A team like the Bulls, depending on the results, could either finish second or seventh in the final standings.

And playing in the European Champions Cup next season will only heighten the hype here in South Africa.

Given the steady flow of South Africans to those teams, there has always been great interest in the English and French clubs and now those powerhouses will be coming to these shores as well.

SA Rugby are sure to see the vindication of their brave move in the years to come, as aligning with the major economies of the rugby world will bring an even greater profile to South African rugby.

Marinos says Sanzaar will continue, but whether that includes the same SuperRugby is still classified 0

Posted on July 27, 2020 by Ken

Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos said on Saturday that cross-border rugby between South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina needed to continue, but whether he was just talking about the Rugby Championship or also SuperRugby surviving in something similar to its current format seems to still be classified information.

New Zealand Rugby seem to have already taken the decision to pull out of SuperRugby, while South Africa seem to be looking more and more into throwing in their lot with European competition. Australia are desperately trying to stay joined with their Kiwi neighbours, while Argentina are probably just hanging on to whatever scraps they can get.

But Marinos disagreed with the current narrative that Sanzaar’s partners are all trying to jump ship when he spoke in an SA Rugby Legends webinar on Saturday.

“We are busy working through our 2021 plans, but the whole return-to-play is not easy to navigate, you have Product A and then 24 hours later you have to change to Product B. The challenge is cross-border rugby because of all the government and medical controls and access to flights. We have to be realistic: The individual unions are responsible for keeping rugby alive and sustainable in each of their markets and then they can look at the feasibility of cross-border competition.

“But we are working through this as a joint venture. A round-robin structure next year is not looking that optimistic because flying won’t be that easy yet. But there is a strong acknowledgement that cross-border rugby needs to be in place in the future. Playing against players from other countries only makes our nations stronger internationally, that’s what has allowed the Sanzaar nations to be the dominant force in world rugby,” Marinos said.

The former Stormers and Wales centre denied that there was anything wrong with SuperRugby as a product and said the attacking nature of the competition has played a major role in the success of the four Sanzaar nations at the World Cup.

“The impact on the bottom line has been significant but it’s not because of poor delivery or a lack of quality or interest in the product. I would unashamedly say we have some of the best players in the world and we’ve seen that at the World Cup. The strength we’ve got is that the toughness of the competition and the global expansion of SuperRugby means our players are used to adapting to different conditions and being on the road for long periods.

“The Northern Hemisphere players don’t have that benefit, they have one-hour flights and they’re away for a weekend. The conditions we play under, plus the fact we put more air on the ball – there’s a very attacking mindset and the teams are as positive as possible – has played a significant role in the World Cup results. And with New Zealand and Australia playing again, we have seen an upturn in people coming back to the game, and SuperRugby can start regenerating itself,” Marinos said.

Roux not subscribing to Australasian players’ views on Sanzaar & SA 0

Posted on June 09, 2020 by Ken

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux is not subscribing to the views of players and former players from Australasia that the days are numbered for South Africa’s partnership with Sanzaar, but he did acknowledge on Monday that major changes for both SuperRugby and the Rugby Championship were inevitable in a post-Covid world.

New Zealand’s SuperRugby franchises will resume play this weekend in an internal competition, while Australian teams are set to follow a similar route. There has been talk of the two countries setting up a Trans-Tasman competition and increased speculation that South Africa will cast its lot in with the Northern Hemisphere.

“As far as Sanzaar goes, we are busy with negotiations in good faith. I’m not too phased about whatever former players, current players or media have to say in Australia or New Zealand, I’m only interested in the people that sit around the negotiating table and they have a completely different viewpoint. But I always have a Plan B, you need the foresight to plan for the worst-case scenario.

“We are very dependent on the decisions of government and that changes quite regularly. But hopefully next Monday we will hear that we can return to training and then return to play in August. That would be a home-based, truncated version of SuperRugby, followed by the Currie Cup and then moving into more international exposure with the international window now moved to October/November.

“It depends on border restrictions, but there is a biosphere model for our teams to be based in Australia, Argentina or here, with a competition in the Northern Hemisphere being an alternative. The biggest influence on Sanzaar will be if New Zealand and Australia don’t open their borders until April. But it’s very clear that the pool format is not the preferred option, we had to come up with a round-robin in which all the teams play each other and it had to make commercial sense.

“We’ll make a rugby decision and then look at the commercials and logistical challenges like reduced flights and number of business class seats, plus whether teams will have to isolate, which means being in a bio-bubble, or quarantine, which means a month in a hotel room without training, will determine those. But the current format will be too tight in a post-Covid world, which is why we’re looking at different options,” Roux said in a virtual press conference on Monday.

The CEO said that the pandemic had at least provided world rugby with the impetus to move towards a global calendar.

“Covid has enabled us to do what we couldn’t do for 130 years and that’s get a global calendar aligned because all competitions are on hold, agreements have been breached or are being re-negotiated. Basically rugby in the Northern Hemisphere will move from winter to summer. The Rugby Championship will move to the beginning of the year with the Six Nations, SuperRugby will stay at the beginning of the year and international rugby will be in October/November. We’ll probably have that all done by July 1.

“We can’t make a final decision on the Springboks until government opens the borders, but by the end of July we should have a very good idea of their schedule. There are very detailed plans for the Rugby Championship to be held at a single venue. If that doesn’t work out then hopefully we’ll have local inbound tours, otherwise we can go North. Failing that we have some very exciting plans for local competitions,” Roux said.

Habana spent enough time in Europe to not be totally sold on SA Rugby moving teams there 0

Posted on June 04, 2020 by Ken

Springbok great Bryan Habana spent enough time playing in Europe to know exactly what it would entail for South African rugby to ditch Sanzaar and move into Northern Hemisphere competitions, and the 2007 World Cup winner is not totally sold on the idea, he said on Wednesday.

There has been global speculation that the world champions will leave Sanzaar after the 2023 World Cup to play in an expanded Six Nations tournament as well as their SuperRugby franchises joining European competitions like the Pro14 and Champions Cup. There has also been talk emanating from Australia of Sanzaar excluding teams from both South Africa and Argentina and focusing on just a trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand.

Habana, who scored a South African record 56 SuperRugby tries for the Bulls and Stormers, finished his career spending five years playing for Toulon so he has intimate knowledge of European competition.

“There’s been a lot of debate about South Africa joining the Northern Hemisphere but right now nobody even knows when rugby will be back in South Africa. Probably the one thing most needed by rugby is a global season. But I suppose the one question is whether Sanzaar need SA Rugby, they have been an important part of Sanzaar for the last 25 years.

“For those in the UK and Europe it’s much easier to watch games in South Africa than those in New Zealand or Australia. But it’s important to see where the Springboks and SuperRugby teams could fit in and they would have to fit in with the Northern Hemisphere schedule. I don’t see our guys enjoying playing in 5⁰ in December/January and how are our rugby fans going to enjoy watching rugby over Christmas when they’re on holiday?” Habana said on Wednesday in a virtual press conference to announce the launch of MatchKit.co, a mobile tech platform intended to help athletes grow their commercial brands, set up by the Retroactive agency of which he is a partner.

There have also been suggestions South African teams could play in both Sanzaar and the Northern Hemisphere, expanding the current involvement of the Free State Cheetahs and the Southern Kings in the Pro14, but Habana said the workload on the players even if they were just involved in Europe would be immense.

“When Toulon won the double in 2014/15 they played more than 40 games and player welfare is important. If we’re going to add four more teams and include the Springboks in the Six Nations then that would mean even more matches. There are advantages to both hemispheres, the players would learn more about foreign conditions and that allows you to develop more as a rugby player and as a person.

“To say who has the better standard of play though is very subjective because what determines a good standard? The Northern Hemisphere has come strongly to the fore in the last few years: In the 2015 World Cup the top four sides were all from the Southern Hemisphere, but in 2019 it was very different [England, New Zealand, Wales, South Africa]. Hopefully our decision-makers will choose what is best for the game as a whole,” Habana said.

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