The 2012 Super Rugby season wrapped up last weekend with the Chiefs cruising to victory over the Sharks. It was a great display from the Chiefs who have been a fantastic team throughout the season. Credit should also go to the Sharks who had to travel to Australia to play the Reds before taking on a tough Stormers team, and then traveling to Hamilton. But that in an of itself is one of the things that makes Super Rugby arguably the best rugby competition in the world. Think about it. Five teams each from what could be considered the three best rugby nations in the world all competing against each other. Unlike the Premiership or the Top 14 (which are amazing leagues in and of themselves) where the talent is diluted through 12 or 14 teams, Super Rugby packs it into 15 teams. Week in and week out the competition is incredible and is a great showcase for rugby around the world.
So okay, enough gushing about Super Rugby. What does this have to do with rugby in the United States? It begins with the drama in South Africa over the fate of the Southern Kings. One of the biggest story lines this last season was what was going to happen to the franchise next season. In case you didn’t know, in their infinite wisdom the bosses at the South Africa Rugby Union decided to promise the Southern Kings a spot in next year’s Super Rugby tournament. At first the SARU tried to say that one the five current South African teams would not be kicked out of the competition and that a 16th team would be added instead. Not so fast said Australia and New Zealand, forcing SARU to find another solution.
The solution they came up with was to relegate the lowest finishing team from this year. In that case it would be the Lions that would get the drop. Alas, that wasn’t going to work because the existing teams had to agree and no team ever wanted to face the threat of relegation. Rumors then came out that the SARU would issue a huge payment to the Southern Kings in order for them to sit out one more year. That is just a rumor and it may not be true, but is just goes to show the mess this whole situation has created. There will be a meeting on the 16th of August that could decide what will happen next year.
Either way, from the U.S. perspective this could be a winner. Why? One of the suggestions for the Kings (or the Lions if they are relegated) is that the SARU pay for teams to visit South Africa to play matches against the left out team. Naturally it was suggested that the Kings (we’ll just say it’s them) play provincial teams from Argentina or clubs from the Top League in Japan. More importantly to the Eagles, another suggestion was to have the Kings play various national teams, including the U.S. and Canada. That’s great news for the United States. Who wouldn’t want to have expenses covered to go play a top-level team in South Africa? It would be a great experience for everyone involved.
Even more, SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said today that his organization was willing think about expansion after the 2016 season and even singled out possibilities outside of SANZAR. He mentioned the obvious choices of Argentina, Japan, and the Pacific Islands, but added that other there were other options in America. The chances of the U.S. getting a Super Rugby franchise is still a long shot. Not only will travel be an issue, but many would question the quality a U.S. team could bring. As I mentioned earlier, these are arguably the best club teams in the world. So, if the Eagles were to get a chance to play against the Southern Kings and do well (probably not winning but not getting smeared across the pitch), it could show SANZAR that taking a risk on the U.S. is worth it. There is no doubt that a U.S. team would struggle mightily, but if SANZAR saw that if the money associated with a Super Rugby franchise in the U.S. could be used to develop players, then they may take a second look at it.
Americans in Super Rugby
When the Stormers had an injury crisis at flanker earlier in the season, it seemed that Todd Clever was poised to step in. However, the Stormers and his club in Japan, the NTT Shining Arcs, weren’t able to make the insurance work and the Stormers brought in Canadian Jebb Sinclair instead. It was too bad that Clever wasn’t able to make the move back to his beloved Super Rugby, but you never know what the future might bring.
Some of you must have thought, “darn, this breaks the streak of Americans playing in Super Rugby.” Well, good news, it doesn’t thanks to Stormers back Marcel Branche. The Los Angeles-born player came to prominence this season after playing for the University of Cape Town (alongside Eagle JJ Gagiano) and for Western Province in the Vodacom Cup. When the Stormers need to some help in the back after some injuries, they called up Branche, continuing the streak of Americans in the competition.
Still, if you are nit-picky and only going off capped Eagles then the streak did end as James Paterson did not play with the Highlanders this year. Boston-born Fudge Mabeta would have been another American to play in the competition this year but a knee injury has forced him out for the long-term.
Sonny Bill Fever
Sonny Bill has decided to change codes once again a move back to league after a very successful stint in union. It’s too bad American audiences didn’t get more of a chance to follow the World Cup and Super Rugby winner. Americans love athletes that bring a bit of spice with them. Think of how many people are interested in Chad Ochocinco playing soccer. Oh well, maybe we’ll just have to wait a few years for him to switch back.
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