Super Rugby’s expansion into Asian and Latin American markets was hailed as a watershed for the sport’s globalisation but the struggles of the three new teams have become an awkward sideshow for the sprawling competition.
At the midpoint of the season, the expansion sides have managed just two wins between them and been subjected to some humiliating losses.
The Jaguares, Argentina’s first team in the competition, have laboured to a single win, as have South Africa’s Southern Kings, who rejoined the tournament after playing a single season in 2013.
Japan’s debutant Sunwolves are yet to toast victory, however, and at the end of their first tour of South Africa they were destroyed 92-17 by the Cheetahs last Friday, a result labelled “embarrassing” for the competition by rugby pundits.
The Tokyo-based side, thrown together at the last minute, were always expected to toil in the world’s toughest rugby championship, where a brutal travel regime tests even the southern hemisphere’s most seasoned combatants.
More was expected of the Jaguares, who boast a roster of Argentina internationals and were tipped to challenge for the Africa 2 conference and win a play-off spot in their first season.
However, they were trounced by New Zealand’s Crusaders last Friday and have lost six straight games since their away win over the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs in the season-opener.
Expansion to 18 from 15 teams has opened new markets and boosted broadcasting revenues, but at the same time it has raised fears that the tournament has spread itself too thin and become too confusing for the casual viewer.
“I watch most of the games but some of the games put me to sleep,” England coach Eddie Jones told Australian media in a recent interview.
“I don’t think the standard’s great this year. Having 18 teams in the competition, it’s really dropped the standards.”
Pundits have grumbled for years that Australia, who have five Super Rugby teams, and South Africa, who now have six, lack the playing stocks to be competitive.
“Outside of the cracking New Zealand conference, the competition appears to be decidedly average,” New Zealand rugby writer March Hinton said over the weekend.
“Spreading the good word of rugby is important, and they are clearly eyeing revenue opportunities. But our flagship franchise competition must never become Stupor Rugby.”
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