Super 14 Basketball? Northern Boredom?

21 02 2010

After a weekend of some fairly extraordinary score lines emanating mainly from the southern hemisphere Super 14 competition, the Compulsive Hooker was moved to compare these results to games over the same period in the northern hemisphere.

Some statistics from the weekend:

  • In 7 Super 14 games the average score was 41-26 with 7.4 tries per game.
  • In 16 Guiness Premiership, Magners League and French Top 14 games the average score was 22-13 with 2.9 tries per game.

Admittedly a more accurate comparison would be between the Heineken Cup and Super 14, both being regional international competitions, but we do not believe that the results would be very different and the comparison can stand.

The Super 14 has long been a competition where high scoring games are relatively common, particularly in its infancy when a premium was placed on entertainment over quality. Since the early 2000’s this trend reversed somewhat as the focus shifted to defence orientated games however we appear to now have gone full circle. With crowds diminishing alarmingly in the southern hemisphere due to what the respective rugby boards believe to be a drop in entertainment values, they have this year set out to redress the balance in the favour of the attacking team, as touched upon in an earlier article on this site.

Having watched 3 out of the seven games this weekend (by fluke the 3 high scoring affairs) the Compulsive Hooker is not convinced this is a step forward. We are not alone in this as several Antipodean papers have also criticised the games as unfulfilling and with regard to the Lions and the Chiefs 72-65 as akin to a game of basketball. Granted there was some pretty special handling skills but also some tackling that would be more akin to an under 12’s game of schools rugby.

By contrast up in the north it was essentially very grim and workmanlike (Toulon beating Toulouse 6-3 for example) with the two games viewed by the team here being spectacularly ‘gritty’ affairs. Without doubt flair levels are higher in the south and the average player seems to be better equipped to break a game open, but if the tackling is so poor it all seems virtually worthless to a ‘proper’ rugby fan.

We must admit though, that we would give anything to have the All Blacks or the Springboks to arrive in the northern hemisphere with tackling like this every Autumn – yet they never do. Indeed the try count in the recent Autumn series was so heavily in favour of the southern teams it was embarrassing, suggesting that the Super 14’s ability to incubate attacking flair totally outweighs the Heineken Cup’s defence oriented games.

Is it a question of rugby cultures? The playing surfaces being harder in the South on the whole? Refereeing? Attack minded coaches? We would posit a combination of these factors plus a few more but more than anything it is probably the willingness to try things with ball in hand. Players like Cipriani and Geraghty are regarded as mavericks in the north whereas in the south the way they play is almost expected. Still, variety is the spice of life and it is one reason we love rugby. The Compulsive Hooker would take a 6 Nations grand slam or world cup victory even if the ball never went further than the 10!

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