The Six Nations is about enter the penultimate round this weekend. Understandably, the return of Super Rugby went almost unnoticed.
For newcomers to the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) domestic game, Super Rugby is passionate about attacking rugby. Pundits on the network coverage jokingly mock our style and argue if you want to be entertained than this is league for you. The Super Rugby promoters divulge in extravagance. While spectators in the ground wait for the game, they are distracted by cheerleaders, crossbar challenges, fireworks, athletic mascots, etc. For the ‘big’ matches promoters also entertain the crowd in the North, however not as frequent.
As already alluded to, attacking rugby is the primary selling point. Yet it is misleading. Over the weekend, from 28th February to 2nd March, 32 tries were scored in 7 matches in Super Rugby. In 6 Pro-12 games 27 tries were recorded. The Pro-12 has no threat of relegation then calculate the tries from the Aviva Premiership, 24 in total, Super Rugby is not on a different planet. The pitches are boggy and difficult to run on in the North, compared to the firm Summer pitches in the south.
Personally, some of the skill level is another level. Especially the New Zealand and Australian teams, they integrate rugby league and Aussie Rules into their style. Australian number 8 Scott Higginbotham’s cross field assist for his Melbourne Rebels teammate Jason Woodward was sublime at the weekend , a try which aided the Rebels defeat the Cheetahs. The improvisation by these players gives them an edge when they play for their respective countries. It would be harsh not to acknowledge the Northern Hemisphere is catching up and insisting to play outside the norm.
A great advertisement is the appearance of some of rugby’s superstars. Ritcie McCaw, Isreal Folau and Jean de Villers to name three. Mostly, we view them on the international stage, it is interesting to see them run out for their domestic sides. Similar to the superstars up here, they are targeted by the opposition. When the stars are away on international duty, Super Rugby appeal does suffer. I would argue our league maintain a high standard during the Autumn Internationals and the Six Nations. The try count certainly validates the point.
As much as the audience and pundits love attacking rugby, they also revel in hard (borderline illegal) tackles. Ritchie McCaw was flattened by a Jamie Mackintosh flaying head-butt. Easily a yellow card in the Pro-12 or Aviva Premiership, resulted in no punishment by referee Chris Pollock. The diverse interpretation allows for more dramatic rugby, but with less regard for safety.
Either the networks (Fox Sports, Super Sport and Sky Sports) or the governing body, SANZAR, decided to create the league into a more accessible sport. Super Rugby was one of the first to utilise dressing room cameras to give audiences an idea of the atmosphere inside, quick and concise interviews with at least one of the players were introduced to examine the thoughts of a team through the interviewee and the application of the ref cam.
Overall, there is no huge divide between the rugby standards, as it once was. While the Northern Hemisphere is now only beginning to catch up with the competition as a family oriented spectacle, with enjoyment for all ages. Super Rugby may emphasise their version of the game is superior in nature. Preference of style to each individual of north or south, rugby is actually the determining factor. The unique talent and skill requirements in scrums and driving mauls add a new facet and lifts crowds accordingly. This was apparent in the England vs Ireland 6 nations match two weekends ago.
Pundit Arena, Dominic Evans.
Featured Image By Geoff Trotter (Flickr: All Blacks – Richie McCaw) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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