Smit’s PRO14 plan is just confused thinking
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