GAVIN RICH: Super Rugby in the time of the coronavirus — what’s next?
It might be a temporary break, but it is possible that the season is already over
If we didn’t already know no-one really has a clue what happens now we would have been able to gather it from the post-match media conference at King’s Park.
When the question was asked of victorious Sharks coach Sean Everitt he said he welcomed the break as his team had played seven consecutive games. While he was sorry that the Durban fans wouldn’t get to see the Chiefs play next week, the chance to refresh would be a good thing.
Everitt was assuming that the competition will be up and running again in two weeks, that this is just a temporary hiatus, just a welcome extra bye week.
But when Stormers coach John Dobson spoke it was clear that he had read the fine print of the announcement that Super Rugby had been suspended better than Everitt had. This might not just be a small break, this could conceivably be the end of the Super Rugby season.
The reassessment scheduled for two weeks time is just that, a reassessment and not a resumption of the competition.
So Dobson understandably saw more cataclysmic consequences for the competition. Perhaps some of the richer overseas sports competitions can sustain the revenue loss that would accompany a protracted break, but can Super Rugby?
It is no secret that SA rugby unions are all cash strapped, some verging on bankruptcy. If there’s no rugby there’s no income, no revenue.
Dobson was thinking of how many livelihoods the suspension affected. Not just coaches and players, but commentators, rugby writers, people working in the betting industry. I would imagine just one week off from the schedule for the latter would mean losses amounting to millions.
Ironically, if there was reason for one of the two coaches to be selfish about it and be pleased that play had been suspended it should have been Dobson. On a day when the ramifications of the suspension overshadowed the actual rugby played, it was easy to overlook that during play his team lost a fourth Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok, Herschel Jantjies, to injury.
What the King’s Park game told us apart from that the Sharks are continuing to punch above their weight is that the Stormers are affected by losing such influential players. It also confirmed that the Stormers need to work on their playing template. That’s not something you can usually do during competition.
But let’s say the competition resumes in five weeks. That is a big enough break for franchises to regroup and make important changes to their approach, and it is also a long enough break for teams who are doing well now to lose that momentum.
At the same time, the longer there is no rugby played the more we start to see the kind of impact on the Super Rugby teams that is experienced by teams batting first in a rain-affected ODI. In the sense that the more the innings is curtailed, the less opportunity there is to recover from a mid-innings blip.
In that sense, the Sharks’ lead in the conference could be made bigger by any curtailment of the number of games.
If they have a large number of games removed from their schedule, the Lions and Bulls will effectively already be assuming also-ran status when they return. Not that they aren’t already, but it will be official.
And here’s an extra reason for the Stormers to be concerned. This is their farewell to Newlands season. Before the suspension they had four regular season Super Rugby games still to play at their much-loved home ground. But let’s imagine that the league phase of the Super Rugby season gets cut to 10 games, with each team being limited to five home games. In that entirely feasible scenario, the Stormers may have one remaining Newlands game.
It could though be even worse — they could have already played their final Newlands game, something that will become a fait accompli if the tournament doesn’t resume within the next five weeks. That according to Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos is the limit being allowed for the break before this Super Rugby season is scrapped.
And what happens then? When it comes to the Premier League it should be easy to give the title to Liverpool on the grounds that at least they’ve completed more than two thirds of the English football season. That isn’t the case with Super Rugby, and the leaders, the Sharks, have played one more game than some of the other contending teams. You can’t award a trophy after less than half the competition has been played.
There are so many questions. The thing we know for sure at the moment is that there are more questions than answers.
Hopefully it will all become clearer in the coming weeks and it resumes soon because the knock-on effect will run deep in a local game that was already facing challenging times.