Napier: Super mediocrity shouldn't be rewarded

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:01 15/12/2013
Marcello Sampson
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KINGS DETHRONED: After one season in Super Rugby, Marcello Sampson and the Southern Kings are back on the outside, looking in, unless expansion adds a sixth South African franchise from 2016.

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OPINION: South Africa doesn't need, nor deserve, a sixth Super Rugby franchise.

The only certainty when expansion is, finally, confirmed for 2016 is New Zealand and Australia will bend over to appease the all-powerful South African broadcasters.

Don't believe the public relations spin. This competition will be worse off with another second-rate side. In 13 of Super Rugby's 18 seasons, a South African team has collected the wooden spoon. That's disastrous in anyone's book. How can Sanzar, the governing body, justify compromising the competition's integrity by adding a sixth team from the republic?

Money, that's how. South African broadcasters bring in the lion's share of revenue. And, unfortunately, in the professional age, money talks around the collective bargaining table, even though greed should not be a guiding principle.

The Stormers are the only South African team not to suffer the ignominy of last place. The Lions (formerly the Cats) finished bottom six times, while the Bulls (3), Sharks (2), Cheetahs (1) and Kings (1) all had a taste. Those results alone make a mockery of rewarding mediocrity.

For the record, of New Zealand's teams, only the Highlanders (1997) and seven-time champion Crusaders (1996) have finished last. This is supposed to be one of, if not the, world's toughest cross-country contests. Adding another African team threatens to severely devalue those claims. Politics and sport aren't happy bedfellows. This is shaping up to be another messy example. New Zealand and Australia will be left holding a hospital pass.

Why should the competition suffer, just because South Africa can't sort out a spat between their local unions? Giving the Southern Kings one season to establish their credentials this year was a pure token gesture.

Next year the Lions return based on superior aggregate, despite winning one of two promotion-relegation playoff games against the Kings. Just to refresh, the Lions-Cats shambles combine to boast a 45-139 record since 1996. Their best years came under former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains, who led the team to their only semifinal appearances in 2000 and '01.

The Johannesburg franchise loses 68% of the time. A little more leeway can be granted to the Kings, who won three of 16 games in their first season.

South Africa aren't going to improve their odds of winning the title - the Bulls are their only team to triumph - by spreading talent and depleting the strongest teams. It merely prevents and protects their administrators from making a tough decision each year.

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This is anything but South African rugby bashing. The Springboks are widely respected in New Zealand. They are the greatest foe and, at present, the biggest threat to the All Blacks' World Cup defence.

But while genuine arguments around growing the global game can be made for the inclusion of teams from Argentina, Japan and the Pacific Islands, another cellar-dwelling South African team is a joke.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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