Rugby Union: Best counts on the Super Ten factor: Chris Rea in Durban salutes a rugby event which can improve standards

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The Independent Online
WHAT might seem like a good idea on an idyllic Saturday evening by the barbecue, with the Indian Ocean's boiling surf crashing on to the shore nearby, is very often a serious mistake in the grey, cold light of Sunday morning. Hours after the Super Ten final between Natal and Queensland at the lavish King's Park Stadium in Durban, thousands of rugby supporters were still en fete in the car-parks. Wives, girlfriends and children, unable to get tickets for a game which was massively over- subscribed, had joined the men. The atmosphere was like nothing any of us, more accustomed to brollies and Barbours, had ever experienced.

Most of the England party were there, including Danie Serfontein, representing the Rugby Football Union on this tour, and himself a native of Bloemfontein, where England's tour opened so unspectacularly last Wednesday. In common with the rest of the England management, he was entranced by the whole show: from the aerobatics, acrobatics and pyrotechnics before and after the match to the tournament itself.

The final had been a crushing disappointment but that did not detract from a competition which, in a very short time, has established itself as a major force in the world game, the standard being superior to anything displayed in the Five Nations' Championship last season. Dick Best, England's coach, sees it as yet another threat to the northern hemisphere's challenge for world supremacy. 'For the first time there is now regular international contact between southern hemisphere countries. The constant circulation of fresh ideas can only help in the development of the game and on the continuing improvement in standards.' Best is very keen to get in on the act. He concedes that the Divisional Championship has outlived its usefulness as a method of identifying England's top players. He also accepts that, as far as the sport's promotion is concerned, the competition is a wasteland.

The success of the Courage Leagues has had a great deal to do with with devaluation of the divisional concept, but Best still believes that the quality of play in league rugby is not high enough to prepare players fully for the international game. 'Having watched the Super Ten final, I now believe that the answer to our problems may lie here in South Africa.'

Best's idea is that the English divisions could travel to play in a series of matches against South African provincial sides. The distance, he believes, would not be a problem. 'It took Queensland 26 hours to get here for last Saturday's final. We came in less than 12. It would not have been ideal but if necessary England could have played last Saturday, just two days after our arrival.' Best did admit, however, that playing at altitude might be difficult. He was also uncertain when a place in England's already overcrowded schedule could be found. The latest information, that the South Africans and the Australians are seeking to extend the competition by including teams from Argentina and Canada and calling it the Super Twenty, opens the way for English participation, although the problem of the event's timing in April and May, remains as an almost insurmountable obstacle for sides in the northern hemisphere. But what if Europe was to organise its own version of the Super Ten?

The format is a simple one. Two pools of five teams play each other with the pool winners meeting in the final. The finalists therefore play five games, the others four. The qualifiers for Europe's Super Ten could be the top three clubs in England and Wales, the two finalists in the French Club Championship plus the Irish

inter-provincial champions and the inter-district champions from Scotland. The competition would be certain to attract television, sponsorship and considerable public support. In the last two weeks King's Park has had crowds of more than 40,000 for the games against Auckland and Queensland. The European version could be played during September with the final on the first Saturday in October. It would mean a reduction in the number of clubs in the league and would be another step along the road to professionalism. But rugby has already travelled so far down that route that there is no possibility of turning back.

Those who attended what was dubbed the 'Nuremburg rally' at Bloemfontein last Wednesday, and what was nothing less than a fund-raising event for the Orange Free State's top players, know the hopelessness of trying to keep amateurism alive. There is no doubt that England's management on this tour, while they cannot condone such blatant contempt for the amateur concept, understand the inevitable consequences of a competition such as the Super Ten.

They realise the need to escape from the insularity and the limited scope of the game back home. A European Super Ten seemed like a good idea under the Durban moon last Saturday night and it still seems like a good idea in the grey dawn this Sunday morning.

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