Top UK critic: European Champions Cup beats Super Rugby ‘hands down’

Rugby’s north versus south debate is on again with claims the European Champions Cup beats Super Rugby “hands down”.

The call comes from Stuart Barnes, the astute Times rugby writer who so often has a soft spot for the southern scene.

It’s not so much the play as the atmosphere that is the basis of Barnes’ analysis around which is the better product and, given Super Rugby’s diminishing crowds, it’s hard to argue against.

“The magic isn’t what happens on the field, rather what surrounds the 80 minutes.

A packed stadium hides the reality of a rotten match, while empty terraces can turn television viewers away from a rather good game,” Barnes wrote in The Times.

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Barnes quite rightly states that the vast distances and time differences between New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Africa, and Argentina handicap Super Rugby’s appeal while the European tournaments were characterised by travelling fans and strong home support.

“When South African franchises play Kiwi counterparts, television cameras struggle to locate more than a pocket of away fans. The stands are nearer empty than full.

Europe has a more manageable proximity with a range of varying cultures within a few hours of one another,” Barnes wrote.

His criticism comes on top of former All Black Andrew Mehrtens calling for New Zealand and Australia to break their links with traditional rivals South Africa and turn their attention to Asia.

Barnes noted that Super Rugby’s criticised conference system was used to promote local derbies to boost a competition that had become a “television tournament“.

“Super Rugby has been forced to turn their pool stage fixtures into predominantly national leagues. Australians are losing interest in the whole concept while even in New Zealand, where the ‘derbies’ are often of outstanding quality, the match can lack the atmosphere of a struggling Bath against a Clermont team who lost to Ulster in round two of the Champions Cup.

“Super Rugby has become a ‘television tournament‘; globally transmitted, its vast distances a mistake of massive magnitude.”

Super Rugby is set for yet another overhaul in 2021 when the Sunwolves are axed, taking the tournament back to 14 teams and a round-robin format.