Dowd: Relegation could be Super motivator

8:55 PM GMT

I was thinking about the competition make-up and the way the Australians have played all year. I know there are cries of ‘don’t panic’ from Australia, but we’ve been making mention of just how average the Aussie teams have been throughout this Super Rugby season.

And that suggests you need a good hard look at what has gone wrong. There’s more than a few injuries or a slip in form behind this; the foundations probably aren’t right in Australia and haven’t been for a long time.

The South Africans have got the Currie Cup while many of their top players are in Europe. New Zealand has the Mitre 10 Cup, which is a great foundation for building the next tier of players.

The Rebels were smashed by the Crusaders at the weekend. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Australia have their club competitions in Sydney and Brisbane, and a few others; but it’s nothing of the same level. They also have the National Rugby Championship, but it still needs to bed in.

There is real concern and last weekend, although it was a horror round, only highlights some of the problems that won’t go away.

I can’t help thinking: how do you fix it? I’m not pointing the finger and laughing at the Australians as, when it comes down to it, this also affects New Zealand. Having a one-sided sports competition is no fun for anybody and Super Rugby really needs Australia to be strong. New Zealand needs Australia to be strong to have competitive games.

When you sit down to watch the rugby at the weekend you don’t want to know what the outcome is going to be. You at least want to be a bit on edge going into watch some sport.

I do wonder if a big financial purse for the winner would help the situation. It could really motivate teams by saying: ‘hey guys you could walk away with a $2.5 or $5million cheque at the end of the competition if you can win it’. There’s got to be an incentive for performance and I also think relegation should be in the mix for under-performance.

Both those thing would get everyone on edge and teams wouldn’t be so keen to offer the ‘rebuilding’ excuse. The Heineken Cup is a perfect knockout competition, while relegation is a part of both England’s Aviva Premiership and France’s Top 14. It is a big, massive incentive.

Teams have got to get off to a good start; they’ve got to do their prep work. You can’t just go into a competition and say it is going to take us three to four years to build. You’ve got to hit the ground running and if you don’t, there’s consequences. And if you do, there’s a cash purse at the end of it.

The Waratahs are still in the hunt for a finals berth despite a loss to the Hurricanes. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

That sort of excitement really gets the fans going. In the northern hemisphere, if a team is fighting relegation it is a massive relief for the fans if they avoid it and a huge disappointment if they don’t. We don’t have that sort of emotion in Super Rugby, but it is probably the thing that would be a good kick up backside for the entire set-up.

The Australians aren’t as good as the New Zealanders and while they’ve had their moments over the past few years, the point is they haven’t been dominant. They’re either there or thereabouts, or they’re a long way behind.

The dilution is the problem, the spreading out of talent; they just don’t have the capacity to run five teams spread across a big country like Australia. It’s not their No.1 sport like New Zealand, or their No.1 passion. Having three or four teams that are going to be competitive is far better than five teams who are going to be easybeats.

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That’s no slight on the Brumbies and the Waratahs who remain in contention for the playoffs this season, and who’ve enjoyed success in the past.

The other consideration, in New Zealand, with promotion-relegation is that it is another chance for New Zealand teams to be exposed to this type of play because there is not a lot of opportunity for players to be exposed to it regularly at a domestic level in order to be better equipped to cope with at a higher level, like a World Cup.

I would prepare a Pacific Island team to replace the side that finished dead last in 2017; that team should drop out and the Pacific Islands team could replace them. You could even open up the competition by having teams around the world bidding to come into the place vacated by the relegated team. Who knows what that might throw up?

The Brumbies turned in a listless performance in Auckland. Phil Walter/Getty Images

Let market forces dictate. It would be a bit of a merry-go-round but the players would be fine; they would be moved from one team to another and would have a chance of joining another team.

People, reading this may well say promotion-relegation is all very well but the competition itself is backward and they are right. If you were going to have relegation, and a big purse at the end of it, you can’t have a competition with the inadequacies of this year’s competition with all the different pools. Everybody would have to play everybody and it would have to be an even footing.

To have a team like the Stormers in South Africa in the play-offs and a potential winner, without having played a single New Zealand team during the regular season is just not right.

Hopefully the powers that be listen and that we as fans can get what we are all screaming out for which is a competition in which everyone plays everyone.

Even the players have made comments that it is tough playing in the New Zealand Conference. Sure, they get battle-hardened, but when they look at where they are on the points table, and where other teams are it doesn’t seem right.

Having said that the competition has gone down to the final round to decide the playoffs positions and there will be some stimulating games this postseason.

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