7 Things Super Rugby Does Better Than the Heineken Cup

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

7 Things Super Rugby Does Better Than the Heineken Cup

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    As the pinnacle of the Southern Hemisphere's club rugby calendar, Super Rugby contends with Heineken Cup as its Northern Hemisphere equivalent, with cases standing as to why either competition might be superior.

    Here, we'll argue the point of the Super XV, where those bastions of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia compete in a three-conference contest that pits some of the best names in the business against one another.

    Europe's representatives may feel that their global-reaching spectacle trumps that of its counterpart south of the equator, but there are a few reasons standing as to why the opposite may be true.

1. Development of National Identity

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    Super Rugby is something of an entrenched territory from an outsider's perspective. It's far less common for some of Europe's biggest stars to go try their hand in the Southern Hemisphere than it is for those to make a trip in the opposite direction.

    This has created a hive mind mentality among SANZAR's participating bodies which, while still undergoing their own brand of broadcasting rights feud, have a more common interest at heart than is evident in the Heineken Cup.

    For all three countries, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, go about developing their sides made up largely of talent from within their own bloodlines, whereas Europe's make-up is far more cosmopolitan.

    For all three nations, the national team and international representation is a very core principle and advancing their strengths against other countries is far simpler when this policy is employed.

    Some may see it as unfair that moving abroad puts one's hopes of international selection at risk, but it's this very strategy that has fired the Southern Hemisphere to the summit of world rugby, and their franchise counterparts do a better job of promoting similar ideologies at the club level.

2. Market Distribution

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    The three-conference system in Super Rugby is a topic of contention among some. The idea of a side finishing with less points than another yet still advancing ahead of that very opponent simply due to their respective conference confines would seem laughable.

    However, in ensuring that at least one team from each of the three divisions makes it through to the Super Rugby finals, the Southern Hemisphere has a format that it can maximise among audiences down under.

    The Heineken Cup (or European Champions Cup as it is to become) would make way for similar allowances in the way that the Pro12 teams qualify, but the standards really aren't as high right now among those teams from Italy, Scotland and Wales.

    At least at the moment, one can rest assured that even the worst of the best teams in Super Rugby—accounting for the top six in this case—would beat the worst of the best that Europe has to offer, if not simply in terms of rugby ability then certainly in terms of marketability, too.

3. Money Management

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    It's something that rugby has managed to limit quite well in the professional era thus far but money is beginning to grow an overpowering grip on how rugby is played in both hemispheres.

    One would argue that by way of the new television broadcasting deal being agreed among Europe's participants, the symptoms are currently more worrying there.

    France's ever-increasing tactic to ruling star-studded rosters through their finances has created a mix of players too cosmopolitan for the taste of some and massive investments promise to rip certain outfits asunder lest they not be managed appropriately.

    Super Rugby is guilty of its splurges, too, of course. Benji Marshall's recently failed move to rugby union from league has left the Blues feeling out of pocket, but it's an extraordinary circumstance for the sport.

    Transfers in rugby are now a point of intrigue so vast in Europe that they're nearing football proportions, and it's unfortunately the man with the thickest wallet who's ruling a lot of that battle.

4. League Format

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    Although there is a certain sparkle that comes to town whenever the Heineken Cup is in the spotlight, cup competitions are in large part a frustrating spectacle for audiences.

    Granted, the 15 competitors of Super Rugby are only in action for six months of the year, but even then it's a constant gushing of elite rugby talent that's on display, with not so much in terms of shrinking minnows.

    European rugby is beginning to develop a pattern of the same faces contending for the top prizes, and while Super Rugby has itself gone through periods of winner monopolisation—the Crusaders, Bulls and Chiefs accounting for eight of the last nine championships—there is a generally well-balanced level of competition.

    The league format makes for week-by-week updates of ever-changing circumstances in the standings and in this case, more is most definitely more.

5. Blooding Regional Talent

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    Ihaia West in last year's ITM Cup Championship final for Hawke's Bay
    Ihaia West in last year's ITM Cup Championship final for Hawke's BayHagen Hopkins/Getty Images

    It's something that is absolutely essential to rugby that the professional era risks losing touch with, but developmental rugby is where the sport all started.

    That's, of course, not to say teams competing in the Heineken Cup don't have their own methods in introducing fresh, young talent, but there might stand the case to argue that Super Rugby sides are better at it.

    The ITM Cup and Currie Cup are contests held in New Zealand and South Africa's respective "offseasons", which help provincial sides promote young talent while not sacrificing anything by way of quality rugby. Super Rugby's giants then go about their way in recruiting those talents which may benefit their cause.

    These televised and highly viewed tournaments give a more encompassing account of the talent making its way through the ranks of each nation, meaning a player doesn't necessarily have to weave their way into a club's "academy" before finding prominence.

    This allows players to establish confidence below the top level without feeling an overwhelming pressure to evolve, so much so that Australia are engineering their own equivalent, per ESPN Scrum.

    The Heineken Cup is more exclusive in this manner, saving the biggest of fixtures for only their very best players for the most part, many of which are foreign imports.

6. Star Vehicle Power

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    An extremely simple point in the grand scheme of things, but Super Rugby is where one should be directed right now for the very best names in the sport.

    There's a reason why New Zealand and South Africa are at the very top of the game, after all, with Australia rebuilding their regime under Ewen McKenzie.

    Conrad Smith (pictured), Julian Savea, Richie McCaw, Jean De Villiers, Will Genia, Israel Folau; the list of reasons to watch Super Rugby in terms of playing personnel at hand are myriad.

    England, Wales, Ireland, France and the other participating Heineken Cup nations obviously have their own share of worldly talents on display, but the more concentrated and potent blend of Southern Hemisphere superstars in Super Rugby makes for more prolonged entertainment.

7. Prolonging of Crowd Support

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    It's a sad truth that in Europe, it's often the rugby fixture that draws the crowds, instead of the rugby being held as first priority and the fixture second, as is the case for most Super Rugby franchises.

    Of course the coliseums of SANZAR's state benefit in that their populations are simply bigger and one could perhaps even say the sport holds more national significance to those in attendance, too.

    But alas, that is the cards they've been dealt and the population thrives upon it, pouring in support for even the smaller outfits such as South Africa's Lions, this year's promoted side.

    Smaller teams being involved in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup lead to smaller gate entrances a lot of the time but huge fan bases are still drawn to the opportunity of seeing Super Rugby firsthand in the Southern Hemisphere, no matter the teams.


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