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OPINION: Super Rugby's opening weekend really can be a hard sell sometimes.
Pity the marketers as they try to flog off their 2014 season passes these past weeks.
Crusaders fans won't see Kieran Read off the bat against the Chiefs when the New Zealand conference sputters to life in Christchurch on Friday.
Dan Carter is on a sabbatical and Read is thinking week two is a better start line.
Further south, in Dunedin, the Blues will go into their first match of the season without All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.
Coach John Kirwan has a "reintegration plan" for the pair.
Jerome Kaino won't be on deck yet either, after a late return from Japan, and Ma'a Nonu is battling back from an ankle injury.
Benji Marshall has been the big sell for the marketers but he is probably on the bench.
At least Richie McCaw is playing.
Let us hope he is not too put off about the home and away local derbies that some players apparently see as too demanding.
That is not a pop at the players. The season is too long.
It should not have started in isolation in South Africa while New Zealanders were still marvelling at Brendon McCullum's brilliance at the Basin.
The real pity is how much better Super Rugby could be.
It is a cracking concept. It has most of the best players in the world. The skill level, physicality, pace and fitness of the players are off the charts.
The 2014 season promises to be a cracker once the masses get on board. No doubt the Chiefs and Crusaders will put on a good show first up.
But opening weekend should be the shop front window. Players and fans should be unanimously chomping at the bit to get under way.
Instead, rugby's prolonged season means the buildup has been dotted by talk of managing work loads, timing runs, sabbaticals and now reintegration plans.
A shorter, sharper and simpler competition would serve everybody's interests.
Less can be more. Ask America's National Football League.
Super Rugby kicked off in 1996 and traditions and rivalries are finally emerging, dynasties are being built, heroes are emerging.
Perhaps if it kicked off a few weeks later; perhaps if fans had been starved a little longer; perhaps if it was not mid February; then the stands would be full and the teams at full strength.
- © Fairfax NZ News