Highlanders coach yearns for South Africa as global club competition heats up

Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody said Super Rugby had “missed playing against the South Africans” as they gave their backing to the proposed global club competition.

Rugby’s top administrative figures gathered in Dublin this week to discuss and plan various aspects of the game’s future.

Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 13

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 13

Topics discussed in the Irish capital include future World Cup hosts, which were announced overnight, as well as the potential implementation of both the Nations Championship at test level and some sort of FIFA World Cup. club world.

The idea of ​​the best clubs in the world taking part in an annual or biennial global tournament is a concept that has been mooted in recent years but never took off.

World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte has shed light on his proposal for a 20-team competition bringing together teams from around the world ahead of the last World Rugby elections two years ago, but did not not yet realized his vision. .

Nonetheless, various iterations of such a tournament have since been supported by rugby leaders, players and coaches around the world.

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson and former Japan captain Michael Leitch are two of the latest rugby figures to voice their approval of the concept, with both having praised the idea over the past week and a half.

Now Dermody has cautiously joined that chorus of support, noting that while a possible Club World Cup would be “quality” work needs to be done to ensure the tournament takes place at a time that suits the teams of the two sides of the equator.

“It would be exciting,” said Dermody, who is in the running to replace outgoing Highlanders boss Tony Brown as the franchise’s head coach next year.

“It’s been talked about for a few years now, so if they could get going and fit it into a fair window for both hemispheres, then I think it’s a great concept.

“I think it would be a tick if we could get up and run. I think the season is really important in its place because, inevitably, if it’s not, it’s going to be at someone’s pre-season or at the end of someone’s season.

“If they can match that so teams have been able to prepare, I think that will be quality.”

Such a tournament has the potential to pit teams from Super Rugby Pacific against South African teams who were once part of the competition before they departed for the United Rugby Championship from Europe following the Covid outbreak.

The exit of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers made Super Rugby a Pacific-focused league with teams only from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

As such, Kiwi teams have had limited exposure to different styles of play from around the world, which was recently expressed as a matter of concern by former All Blacks front five Tom Taylor.

However, any form of Club World Cup would give New Zealand’s most successful teams a chance to broaden their horizons and take on different teams with alternative approaches to how they play the game.

This, according to Dermody, would be beneficial for teams such as the Highlanders, who he says have noticed the absence of not only South African franchises, but also Argentina’s Jaguares, the new Super Rugby Pacific.

“I think the boys would really like to play against teams from the northern hemisphere, a completely different style again,” Dermody said.

“We obviously missed playing the South Africans so I think that would benefit international rugby, certainly allow us to be exposed to younger guys without having to play test matches, getting used to that European style .

“In my position as forwards coach, it was always a big challenge to prepare for the South Africans and the Argentines.

“That’s how the competition is and that’s what we were given, but it’s always nice to challenge the thinking as coaches, but also as players.”

Dermody’s comments echo the sentiments of Robertson, who said earlier this week that pitting the world’s best clubs against each other would be “a great idea” while lamenting the loss of South Africa from Super Rugby .

“I think [we’re missing them] more and more now,” the Crusaders boss said.

“The first year, I thought maybe we wouldn’t miss them because we had [Super Rugby] Aotearoa and it was hard enough as it was.

“Then the second year we had two competitions and then we realized when you watch them play or you watch those test matches that their mentality towards the game, their style, their strengths.

“What makes our game great is a different flow, a different game, and when we play them we’re better at it. So I think we miss them.

Leitch, meanwhile, told an international press conference last week that Japan’s inclusion in a Club World Cup of any kind would be important for rugby in Japan.

“It really excites me,” said the 33-year-old Toshiba Brave Lupus free forward.

“For example, if my club were to become Japanese champions and had the opportunity to play in some of the best teams in the world, if you’re a young Japanese player, if that doesn’t excite you, then I’m not sure what that is happening.

“The schedule and things, like in terms of the season, if everyone can line up on that then I think it would be a great opportunity to help Japanese rugby grow.

“It would be great for Japanese players who are not involved in their national game to be exposed to a much faster and more brutal level of rugby.

“I think it’s something, if it could come to fruition, it would be great for the development of Japanese rugby.”