Forget threats of a split, SANZAR helps everyone

PAUL CULLY
Last updated 12:19 26/11/2013

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OPINION: It is not often that Richie McCaw is trampled as he was by Irish prop Cian Healy in the All Blacks' 24-22 win against Ireland in Dublin on Sunday.

But it was that sort of game, one in which Irish commitment and the excellent Ireland No 9 Conor Murray - as good a performance by any player at the weekend - combined to take New Zealand to the edge and beyond, until Johnny Sexton reached out a hand to the foe with his crucial missed penalty kick with five minutes to go.

(Incidentally, Wallabies fans will be elated that their side made much easier work of the Irish than New Zealand, although in equal measure there might be regret that Ireland, England and France have all now managed to put the All Blacks under more sustained pressure than Australia this year).

But no matter how close Ireland got, there is a familiar tale across all the November Tests this year. The southern hemisphere is still in the ascendancy, and it is their sides who can produce those extra moments of skill that decide Test matches.

So it is apt that while the November Tests have been ongoing, SANZAR's negotiations for Super Rugby have been bubbling away in the background.

The talks may be more contentious than usual, but this November has been a reminder why the parties will be wise to forget the threats of a split, bin any structure that keeps the Australians and New Zealanders too distant from the South Africans, and get the deal done.

SANZAR may have its internal disagreements, but the mutual benefits are enormous. Australia and New Zealand get the physical examination supplied by the South Africans, and they in turn get regular reminders that brute force is not quite enough. They all suffer if Super Rugby is not right.

Super Rugby has its knockers - not attritional enough for some northern tastes - but it encourages players to develop the skills that can separate sides even as the conditioning gap between the hemispheres is closing.

Take the try scored by Wallabies winger Chris Feauai-Sautia against Scotland, for example. Quade Cooper executed a  clever wraparound play and timed his final pass perfectly, but it also featured some good hands by hooker Stephen Moore.

The deliverer of the final pass to All Blacks substitute Ryan Crotty for the match-winning try was Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles. For all their physicality, England could not  find a midfielder with the soft hands Moore or Coles showed.

Scott Fardy's pass to Michael Hooper against Ireland was another example of that, or Bismarck du Plessis' rampaging run and offload against Wales.

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SANZAR will find a way to square the circle as it juggles competing requests such as a sixth South African side and a cap on the total number of Super games. Something has to give, and it may be the integrity of the competition that the powerbrokers find most elastic: Australia and New Zealand are not about to wave goodbye to South African money and in truth a precedent was set when the conferences, and the unequal Super draw, were introduced.

But in putting together the final package, the negotiators need to be mindful of one thing. Respect what you have already got, because it keeps on producing the players who keep on producing at the international level.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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