Smit’s PRO14 plan is just con­fused think­ing

The Rugby Paper - - Letters | Views - COLIN BOAG

John Smit is a man to be reck­oned with, a for­mer Spring­bok cap­tain, and a RWC win­ner, but you have to won­der at his lat­est sug­ges­tion. Cur­rently the South­ern Kings and the Chee­tahs play in the PRO14, hav­ing been culled from Su­per Rugby, while the Bulls, the Sharks, the Li­ons and the Storm­ers will com­pete in next year’s Su­per XV.

Smit has put for­ward the idea that af­ter a cou­ple of years in the North­ern Hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tion, the Chee­tahs and Kings should re­vert to Su­per Rugby, swap­ping places with the Sharks and the Bulls!

I had to check that it wasn’t April 1st when I heard this, but ap­par­ently he’s se­ri­ous. His idea is wrong on so many lev­els. First, whether it’s the PRO14 or the Su­per XV, surely a league has to be about in­tegrity, and part of that means a mea­sure of sta­bil­ity so fans can become fa­mil­iar with what’s go­ing on?

The only pos­i­tive about Smit’s sug­ges­tion is that it treats both leagues with an equal mea­sure of con­tempt! Ap­par­ently he wouldn’t want to let the Li­ons or the Storm­ers play in the north, as they’re al­ready strong enough to be com­pet­i­tive in Su­per Rugby – I won­der how the PRO14 or­gan­is­ers would feel about be­ing re­garded as a se­cond-class league?

This is just an­other ex­am­ple of how trou­bled and con­fused these two leagues ar. It comes on the back of the fi­asco in­volv­ing Le­in­ster head­ing south to play against the Kings. They pitched up at Jo­han­nes­burg air­port on Wed­nes­day, only to find that two of their play­ers, who orig­i­nated from New Zealand, needed visas!

I know that the Saf­fer teams were drafted into the PRO14 in a rush, but this is like am­a­teur hour. Le­in­ster’s head of rugby oper­a­tions trot­ted out the cliché about it be­ing a valu­able les­son learned, but he’ll be a lucky man if that sat­is­fies his bosses.

Just to prove that mad­ness isn’t solely the pre­serve of the South­ern Hemi­sphere, Sara­cens played New­cas­tle Fal­cons yes­ter­day in Philadel­phia. This isn’t the Premier­ship’s first out­ing in the US, and ev­ery time it hap­pens I ask my­self ‘why?’ If you’re a club rugby fan you get eleven home games a sea­son, and it stinks when one of those gets taken away.

New­cas­tle sounded out their fans about a pack­age deal to pop over to Philly, but dumped the idea when there were in­suf­fi­cient tak­ers. Sar­ries’ sup­port­ers paid ‘only’ £1,295 to fly out to see the game, with a few jollys, such as ac­cess to train­ing ses­sions, thrown in.

John Mitchell, the for­mer coach of the US Ea­gles, has dis­missed the Philadel­phia ad­ven­ture as ‘a waste of time’. I’d guess he knows more about US rugby than the peo­ple in­volved in or­gan­is­ing this fix­ture, and his view is that there are ar­eas where rugby has a foothold, and where a Premier­ship match might make an im­pact, but Philly isn’t one of them.

Pre­sum­ably the Premier­ship want to stim­u­late in­ter­est, in the hope of ever-more lu­cra­tive tele­vi­sion rights in the US, but at the same time it’s the PRO14 that seem to be han­ker­ing af­ter hav­ing one or two US pro teams join their league, some­thing Mitchell seems to sup­port. Quite how they’d sched­ule a PRO15 or PRO16 in­volv­ing ten hour flights to South Africa, and eight+ hours to the US is be­yond me – if peo­ple com­plained about the travel costs and lo­gis­tics when the Ital­ian sides joined the PRO12, what will they make of this?

What wor­ries me most is the way in which the diehard club fan is get­ting in­creas­ingly marginalised. It started with games mov­ing from Satur­day af­ter­noon to Fri­day evenings and Sun­days across all of the north­ern leagues, and now we have the PRO14 adding in ev­er­in­creas­ing travel times and cost on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. How long will it be be­fore the num­ber of pun­ters com­ing through the gates to see pro­fes­sional rugby ceases to mat­ter? We’re al­ready at the stage where gate re­ceipts are sig­nif­i­cantly less im­por­tant than in the past, and if the Premier­ship could strike a huge US tele­vi­sion deal, that would change the fi­nan­cial dy­nam­ics of the league for­ever.

This is all part of pro­fes­sional sport’s rich pat­tern, and mere sup­port­ers are pow­er­less to in­flu­ence its course, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, and I don’t.

More prob­lems: The Kings heav­ily lose yes­ter­day to Le­in­ster

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