Super Rugby 2014: Winners and Losers

The Super Rugby competition for 2014 is now over and the Waratahs have been crowned champions. It has been a long season and as with any season there are always winners and losers. Here are my winners and losers from the 2014 Super Rugby season:

Winners:

New South Wales Waratahs:

What a season it has been for Michael Cheika and his Waratahs. Coming into this season they had not won in Super Rugby competition and were desperate to get that monkey off their backs. Simply put: they were the best team in the competition in 2014 and its biggest winner.

Highlanders:

2013 was the worst season the Highlanders have had in Super Rugby competition, particularly with the squad listing they had. 2014, after a clear out of playing stocks that saw many consider that they would be in the fight for the wooden spoon again. They over-performed with the line up they had and were in the running for a finals spot right up to the final weeks of the competition.

Western Force:

The Western Force have long been the perennial strugglers of the Australian conference in this competition whilst also being one of its off field success stories, particularly when you consider the excellent crowds the franchise garners to its games. Those die hard fans were treated this year to the best season on record for the Force. If they keep up their improvement from this season a finals birth can not been out of the question in future seasons.

Biggest Winner: Israel Folau

This is tough for me to say but after only two seasons Folau is fast becoming, if he is not there already, one of the best players in the game. Yet again this season he dominated opposition whenever had ball in hand and was the cornerstone of the Waratahs first championship victory.

Losers:

Cheetahs:

The Cheetahs came into the 2014 season off the back of a 2013 season in which they were finalists and, in my view, the biggest winner of 2013. What a difference 12 months can make. The Cheetahs were nothing short of ordinary this season and have lost any of the impetuous they had gained from the 2013 season.

SANZAR Referees:

It has not been a happy season for refereeing in the Super Rugby competition. 2014 has seen everything from the referees from inconsistent interpretations, incorrect decisions, over use of technology and suggestions of bias. There is no doubt that refereeing is a thankless task but this season has not been a good one for the whistleblowers.

SANZAR:

SANZAR this season has trumpeted its expansion plans with the addition of two more teams on the agenda. For all of the expansion talk I, for one, don’t believe we have seen a season where the gap between the best and worst teams in the competition has been more obvious. Frankly, I will never be convinced that the Australian and South African conferences do not have one team too many in them and the results again showed this season. Add that fact to another end of season exodus of players from the competition and I wonder if SANZAR is reconsidering its position on expansion.

Biggest Loser: Queensland Reds

I am a passionate Reds fan and have written earlier about my views on the Reds season. There can be no doubt that the Reds were hamstrung by injuries during the season. That said, the fact is that the Reds have gone from a team that was one of the bunch marks for discipline in the competition to the worst disciplined team in it. Add to that the fact that the skills of the Reds looked to evaporated the longer the season went on makes the Reds the biggest loser for 2014.

Super Rugby 2015 starts in seven months time: I am already counting down the days!

And then there were two … Super Rugby Final 2014: Just don’t tell me I should support the Waratahs!

After the predicted became reality last night and it was confirmed that the Waratahs would host the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final for 2014 an interesting, and not unusual, phenomenon started, both in my text messages and social media timeline: a call to arms that I, as an Australian, should support the Waratahs, as of right, in next weeks final.

Here are 5 reasons why, at best, I will be a neutral viewer of next weekend’s final:

1. I am a Queenslander, born in Ipswich, and I have never, ever, supported a team representing New South Wales in winning a sporting contest. And I never will. It is a parochial thing.

2. I have written before that my enthusiasm for any sporting code wanes once my supported side is out of the finals and, frankly, with the Queensland Reds out of contention it would be fair to say I am somewhat ambivalent to the outcome of the game on the weekend.

3. I keep hearing, particularly on Foxsports and in the Sydney media, that a Super Rugby final in Sydney is “one of the most important games in Australian Rugby’s history”. What an absolutely specious statement: if it was the Rebels or Force hosting the final that that statement would have merit but not in the current context. Just because the press think the Waratahs have earned some sort of special status above other finals combatants of the past does not mean I have to support them.

4. When my beloved Reds made the final, and won it, I did not ask, nor did I expect fans of any other franchise to support my team. To do so, in my view, would be to ask said fans to change their colours and is nothing short of disingenuous.

5. As a Queenslander and lover of Rugby’s hoodoos and history I, personally, find comfort in the Waratahs’ 18 year streak of not winning the Super Rugby title. It just feels right to me that that hoodoo remain for one more year.

The coming final will be an epic encounter between the two best teams in the competition this year. Make no mistake about that. I look forward to watching it: just don’t ask me to support the Waratahs!

Rugby: Memo to the QRU / Queensland Reds on the fan experience

Last night saw the end of the 2014 Super Rugby season for the Queensland Reds. In a season where the membership of the Reds hit 55,000 (obviously this number includes single / three game memberships) it is strange to be writing a post about improving the fan’s experience. However, having attended all but one home game this year: the matters I intend to raise are things that have been floating through my mind all year.

Whilst the Reds are to be applauded for their obviously excellent membership drive this year, in the context of a poorly coached and under performing team going onto the field, here are 5 things they or the QRU must improve on to improve the fan’s experience AND keep all those members coming through the door:

1. Stop playing music / chants in the middle of play

I have never experienced this at any other Australian sporting event: the playing over the loud speaker of a stylised “We are Red” chant at important and even ad hoc parts of the game. It is irritating and does not promote chanting. Rather it is an embarrassment and must stop.

2. Time for a new “on field” announcer

The fan experience before and after the game and during breaks in play is oft guided by the “on field” announcer and the fellow the Reds have been trotting out for the last seven years is, frankly, appalling. Yelling into the microphone at every opportunity does not make for good ground announcing nor does being embarrassingly partisan. It is time for “Woodie” to head back to River 94.9FM and a change to be made.

3. Schedule more afternoon games

The next generation of rugby union fans are obviously in the age group of 5-12. The Reds (and indeed all sports franchises) have to take positive steps to get more these future fans to the games. A simple way to do that is to the schedule the game at a time that is more kid friendly. A 7:40pm is just too late for young families to come to the game. Scheduling more games at 3pm or even 4pm on a Sunday would solve this problem.

4. Open enough bars / food outlets to serve everyone comfortably

I have noticed over the last four or five rounds a contraction in the number of food outlets and bars open in the area in which I sit despite there being a steady increase in fans sitting in the area, particularly last night. Of course this leads to longer queues and more time away from the game. One would have thought given the robbery prices charges that they could afford to keep needed outlets open!

5. Who ever decided not to sell a match program last night must be sacked

I know I am a bit old school but the first thing I do when I walk through the gates of any sport event is buy a program. Whilst I was later than normal last night, when I arrived some 45 minutes before kick off I was astonished to find no programs on sale and I was not the only one looking for one! A program is an important part of the game experience for many fans: this must not happen again!

As I said at the start of this post: the Reds are to be applauded for their excellent membership drive this year. That said, if they want to keep those members, particularly members who have been members for a long time, these are matters that must be fixed in my view.

Bring on 2015 and, hopefully, an improved fan experience!

Super Rugby 2014: Round 19 Results and Finals Qualifiers

The final round of Super Rugby for 2014 has just completed. Here are the results:

Blues 8 Chiefs 11
Brumbies 47 Force 25
Bulls 40 Rebels 7
Crusaders 34 Highlanders 8
Reds 3 Waratahs 34
Lions 60 Cheetahs 25
Stormers 10 Sharks 34

These results mean that the qualifiers for the finals for 2014 are (in order):

1. Waratahs (Australian conference champion)
2. Crusaders (New Zealand conference champion)
3. Sharks (South African conference champion)
4. Brumbies (Wildcard)
5. Chiefs (Wildcard)
6. Highlanders (Wildcard)

The first round of the finals therefore will involve these games:

Qualifying Final 1: Brumbies v Chiefs, Canberra Stadium
Qualifying Final 2: Sharks v Highlanders, Kings Park Stadium