Super Rugby out to convince the sceptics

Date published: February 25 2016

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Super Rugby's unfamiliar look has rattled plenty of cages prior to the 2016 season but it's time to down the pitchforks and buy into making the new format work.

If we're still having to slowly break down both the schedule and format of the revamped tournament a day before it starts, then you know it's over-complicated.

Hopes that Super Rugby will just continue as the all-thrills rugby nirvana we've become accustomed are a little strained, partly because we have no idea if a set of new conferences and an exhausting fixture list will sink or swim.

The jury is also out on a new bonus-point system designed to keep matches competitive for longer, with an attacking point only earned by outscoring your opponent by three tries.

There are also new teams. Expanding to Argentina was completely the right move based on how Los Pumas have added to the Rugby Championship and the talent the Jaguares are able to select from. 

Off the field, adding the Sunwolves is a positive move despite the convoluted schedule of playing 'home' matches in both Japan and Singapore, while true success on the field for now seems years away.

It's harder to argue for the return of the Kings. The beleaguered franchise's best side looks only packed with second-rate South Africa talent, as David Campese pointed out to us in an interview last month.

Taking a team away from Australia and South Africa and then adding the Jaguares and Sunwolves might have been a better solution, but for 2016, at the very least, this is the hand we've been dealt.

Forget the schedule for a second and let's focus on reasons to be excited.

With the expected revival of the Blues, competition between the five New Zealand franchises looks stronger than ever, especially with the return of champions the Highlanders and beaten finalists the Hurricanes.

The Brumbies look set for a big run at the title knowing the may not be as strong in 2017 without the services of Stephen Moore, Matt Toomua and possibly David Pocock. The Waratahs remain more than competitive – the Rebels have developed a tougher skin and look ready to compete.

Fresh blood at the Stormers makes them look like play-off contenders, along with Johan Ackermann's improving pride of Lions. The Sharks too have a point to prove after a dismal year in 2015.

There will be the customary spectacular tries and close finishes. New stars will emerge too – nobody knew who Nehe Milner-Skudder was in February last year, but they sure did by the end of March.

But what this edition of Super Rugby lacks is subtance. Instead it resembles a complicated algorithim involving new time zones and an unsatisfying fixture list where teams can avoid playing entire countries.

Past enjoyment will persuade us to give it a chance, to bregrudgingly buy into a tournament that's now truly unlike another. 

But don't be surprised to see a backlash by the time we get to the final in August. Just how 'Super' is it now? Ask us again in a few months.

by Ben Coles

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