Euro Cup v Super Rugby: Why less is more

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:29
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EXCLUSIVE: Jan de Koning spoke to England utility back Henry Slade about the vastly different competition structures in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.

SANZAAR will continue to protest loudly and have some seemingly sound reasoning why their product is superior.

However, an ever-expanding Super Rugby has just too many obvious flaws and as a result, Europe's major competitions are beginning to steal a march on those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Apart from the growing chorus of discontent from within their own market over the unyielding stance on the cockamamy format, there is the lure from Europe - both in terms of financial resources and  superior player welfare - that is also draining the already diluted product.

Slade described Super Rugby as "complicated" and "tricky one to understand", especially for those not being involved in the competition.

On of the biggest gripes - not that Northern Hemisphere pundits are alone in this - is that you have vastly differing strengths in the four different conferences, especially with the manner in which New Zealand franchises seem to dominate.

Some teams end up playing the Kiwis and others don't, As a result, you end up with weaker teams in the play-offs and lopsided results - as was evident in the 2016 quarterfinals.

And because of the Southern Hemisphere officials' infinite lack of wisdom, domestic competitions - like the Currie Cup in South Africa - are also being diluted.

"I like the way our leagues and Cup competitions are structured over here [in the Northern Hemisphere]," Slade told rugby365.

"In the [English Premiership] league you play everybody home and away," he said, adding: "The same happens in the group stages of the [European] Champions Cup - you also play each team home and away.

"I feel it has a really good structure here."

Slade said he loves watching Super Rugby, but it is tough to work out who's playing who and who is doing what.

Then there is the ever-growing drain on players because of the ridiculous travelling schedule.

The Highlanders, for example, did just on 50,000 air miles in one month in the build-up to the play-offs.

By the time they arrived back in Johannesburg for a semifinal showdown with the Lions the evidence of travel fatigue was blatantly obvious.

"Our furthest trip is Newcastle and that is just an hour-and-a-half flight," he said of his English Premiership club Exeter Chiefs.

"That helps us no end," Slade said, adding: "It is obviously very taxing on players to travel through different time zones, doing it week-on-week.

He felt that while Super Rugby is "exciting to watch" and "very attractive" rugby, travel fatigue may well be contributing to the growing number of blow-outs.

That is another massive advantage European competitions have over the SANZAAR products.

"There is not really any time differences when we travel to play teams in Europe, so there are no jet-lag issues and that makes teams and competitions more competitive," Slade said of competitions like the European Champions and Challenge Cup - where 50-point blow-outs are a rarity, unlike Super Rugby.

* Meanwhile Slade said his Premiership club, Exeter Chiefs, are not in the least concerned about their slow start to the 2016/17 season.

Last season's beaten finalists, the Chiefs, started with a couple of tough matches - Wasps away (a 20-25 loss) and Saracens at home (a 13-34 defeat).

"We probably let a win slip away at Wasps," Slade said about a game in which they were 20-8 up with just on a half-hour to go.

"We are pretty disappointed with that one."

However, they bounced back with a 36-25 win over Harlequins and then a 41-17 win over Bristol this past weekend.

The England twice-capped England back said because the defeats happened at the start of the season - after Exeter's great showing ;last season - people are making an issue of it.

"We never got too carried away and stuck what we are doing," he said, adding: "It is a long season and 18 more rounds to go.

"Because we finished second last year we have a target on our backs.

"When we were a mid-table team we used to target top four teams to knock over.

"We understand teams in the middle of the table will now target us."

By Jan de Koning
@King365ed
@rugby365com

* This interview was made possible by the Aviva Community Fund. Premiership Rugby and the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby Clubs are supporting the Aviva Community Fund – a nationwide initiative which offers funding of up to £25,000 to grassroots sports clubs and other community organisations close to your heart. Enter at aviva.co.uk/community-fund

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