The new-look Super Rugby format kicks off next Friday and I have to say, that after spending two weeks in South Africa while there was no league rugby in France talking to players and the public, I remain unconvinced.
This got me thinking again about a format where teams don’t face all the other franchises in the competition and specifically about the strength of the South African sides when the best we could manage last season was the Stormers being beaten by the Brumbies in the first round of the play-offs.
Just off the top of my head, I made a list of South Africans playing in France’s Top 14 and put a phantom Super Rugby side together. Try this squad for size.
Props: Steven Kitshoff, Jannie du Plessis, Pat Cilliers, Gurthro Steenkamp, Heinke van der Merwe and his namesake Schalk.
Hookers: Bismarck du Plessis, Marthinus van der Westhuizen and Jody Jenneker.
Locks: Juandre Marais, Flip van der Merwe, Gerhard Mostert, Peet Marais and Paul Willemse.
Loose-forwards: Jacques du Plessis, Pedrie Wannenberg, Willem Alberts, Jono Ross, Juan Smith and Duane Vermeulen.
Scrumhalves: Heini Adams, Charl McLeod and Ricky Januarie.
Flyhalves: Morne Steyn, Demetri Catrakilis and Burton Francis.
Three-quarters: Bryan Habana, Johan Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Meyer Bosman, Johan Goosen and Gio Aplon.
No other nation has this depth of representation South Africa can count on in France. Not New Zealand. Not Australia.
And it is my firm belief that if it were possible to put a squad like this together they would beat any of the South African Super Rugby franchises.
Which brings me back to Super Rugby and the talks I had with ordinary South Africans about the new season.
In the format which has been adopted for 2016, there just doesn’t seem to be the excitement and enthusiasm the organisers would probably have expected with the introduction of the Sunwolves from Japan and the Jaguares from Argentina.
The general feeling seems to be that the man in the street is confused about the way the competition works and that’s not a positive message.
Last season’s system – although it didn’t necessarily ensure that the top four teams made it into the semifinals – at least had the benefit of having the top team in each of the Australian, New Zealand and SA conferences guaranteed a place in the play-offs.
There was a team left in the running from everyone to follow.
Looking at the new dispensation, it is quite possible for four New Zealand teams landing up in the semis and the best of those fighting it out in the final.
That scenario would effectively sideline the supporters from Australia, South Africa … and yes, from Argentina and Japan too.
I don’t really believe that anything beats every team playing every other team and the best side coming out on top as champions. It’s probably right to wait and see how the new format beds in. But I remain unconvinced.
Jake White is South Africa’s World Cup-winning side of 2007 and currently director of coaching at French top-tier outfit Montpellier.