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Thu Jul 28 20:22:35 SAST 2016

A stodgy diet of Super Spaghetti

Archie Henderson | 02 March, 2016 00:30
Archie Henderson. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED

Watching the opening weekend of Super rugby was like being reminded of what Zhou Enlai was supposed to have said about the impact of the French revolution 200 years after the event: "It's too early to say."

That's how long it feels the 2016 rugby revolution will take to reach any resolution.

Aussie writer Brett McKay doesn't have Zhou's patience with a competition that has outgrown itself. If you wrote all 18 teams around the outside edge of a plate, he says, and then dropped a bowl of spaghetti in the middle, you'd get a close approximation of who will play whom over the next five months or so.

There was little from the weekend's matches to rouse much faith in the local teams. The Bulls and Kings were hopeless. The Bulls might recover somewhere along the way, probably on Saturday against the Rebels, but the Kings are the Tokyo Sexwale of South African rugby - losers.

The Cheetahs managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the Sharks were at times lethargic and the Stormers showed glimpses of potential but we know they never last the race. Perhaps we should throw in our lot with Los Jaguares; at least the newcomers from Argentina have some enterprise.

What used to be a festival of enjoyment, with permutations that could be easily grasped and understood has turned into a mind-numbing slog of forward charges being confronted by cast-iron defence. The result is a dreary stalemate with only the occasional outbreak of spontaneity.

The Six Nations is not much better, but at least it's shorter.

And the future doesn't look promising. On Sunday, the grand old man of South African sports journalism, Bokkie Gerber, writing in Rapport, told the story of an apparently gifted 12-year-old player who, upon being selected for the Craven Week, was handed a playbook containing 42 different options for a variety of situations on the field.

Imagine that! A kid who should be memorising his multiplication tables is being told to learn by heart some rubbish dreamed up by an overweening adult, no doubt backed by a staff of nutritionists, statisticians and cone-carriers, all armed with clipboards and all probably failures as 12-year-old players themselves.

What is happening to our wonderful game, where running, dummying and sidestepping with a leather ball in your hand (in the words of David Kramer) brought great joy?

I have said this often, but the blame for all this lies with greedy administrators and players too eager to take the TV king's shilling before entering the real world. The organisers of this Super Spaghetti have proclaimed the expanded competition "a rousing new era".

It's nothing of the kind; it's been forced down their throats by television and they barely resisted. The introduction of the Sunwolves of Japan, as poor as they were against the Lions, and Los Jaguares is a minor mitigation.

Argentina have long deserved a place at the top table and Japan have the sixth-highest number of registered players in 3631 clubs. That's more than Australia, Wales or Scotland. Also, they have been playing rugby in Japan for just over a century.

Whether the newcomers will help enliven the competition, however, is unlikely. We are set for a season of Chinese water torture, an agony Zhou Enlai will be familiar with.

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