Talking point: what the Munster-Crusaders game really taught us

rugby06 February 2024 05:34| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Players of Munster © Gallo Images

Away from the limelight of the Six Nations, at the same time that Scotland and Wales were serving up probably the most entertaining match of the opening weekend of Northern Hemisphere’s showpiece action, a game was taking place that at any other time would have received top billing.

The Super Rugby champions - the mighty Crusaders had travelled all the way to Cork to face Vodacom United Rugby Champions Munster in the same venue the red army dispatched with the SA A side some 16 months ago.

This was - if it was organised right - supposed to be the defacto World Club Championship, a game that should have captured imagination and would be seen by millions.

Instead, it took place at the same time as the Six Nations, played by two mix and match sides and taught us two massive things about the future of rugby, especially for South Africa.

The first - that a global season is desperately needed to sort out rugby’s convoluted and unsustainable calendar at the moment and the second, that South Africa’s move northwards has not diluted its franchise playing strength.


Let me explain.

On the first point, it is hardly a new concept that the world of rugby desperately needs a calendar shift by someone to allow it to align competitions to make it more palatable to the average fan, and to allow teams a proper off-season.

South Africa is caught in the middle of this, and has one foot in both hemispheres, playing franchise rugby in the URC and test rugby in the Rugby Championship.

The result has meant a carefully crafted off season by MyPlayers, SA Rugby and franchises that satisfies nobody. Franchises (other than the Stormers) aren’t keen on playing Christmas rugby, while there is no discernible off-season to speak of anymore. Rugby is now a year round spot.

In this context, franchises have to do without their Springboks, who have to get an eight weeks rest because of their commitments in the Rugby Championship, which takes place in what is the European off-season, while the addition of the Currie Cup to the September time slot means that franchise coaches have now had to juggle players during the season to get a full eight weeks off so that they are allowed to compete in the Currie Cup.

But back to Cork’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Gaelic Football stadium where the game was hosted. The Crusaders had arrived for their first warm-up game before the Super Rugby season, while Munster were without their Irish national players, including Irish captain Peter O’Mahony. They also have a raft of injuries.


So what should have been a humdinger turned out to be a practice game garnering little attention.

A game that rugby’s bosses have been talking about for years now - the World Club Championship - was taking place without the fanfare, without most of the rugby world knowing.

The Crusaders were also without their talismanic coach, Scott Robertson, who led them to seven consecutive titles, and has now become the All Blacks coach.

Just, for a moment, imagine if it was a full-strength Munster, just off a URC victory in Cape Town, facing the might of the Crusaders. It would be a game for the ages. And so it should be.

The reality is that with the current calendar, a game like this has no free weekend, especially one where both sides can select full-strength sides and give it the billing it deserves.

And like SA Rugby and every South African player, it underlines the desperate need for World Rugby to finally sort out the calendar, something they have failed to do for years.


On the second point, the fact that Munster beat the Crusaders 21-19 (spoiler alert) should serve as a confirmation that the move northwards is a good thing for SA Rugby.

For years there has been arguments about whether the well-funded northern hemisphere clubs are stronger that the Southern Hemisphere teams. Two weakened champions may not be the best to win that argument but it showed that at least in terms of player depth there is not much to choose between the two sides.

The Crusaders’ tries were mainly what you would expect - long range efforts where they managed to get some flair into their game while Munster’s came mostly from forward play and rolling mauls.

But while there have been some debates about the move northwards, there are few in the franchises or SA Rugby who believe it wasn’t a correct one, and recent moves by New Zealand, including the introduction of an under-20 Rugby Championship and more regular visits by junior sides to the country, as well as talk of longer tours restarting in the future, show how the Kiwis feel that they need regular game contact against South African players.

South Africa has brought something new and fresh to the European game, and while local fans may still be getting used to the URC and Champions’ Cup, and the teams that take part, the move northwards has been beneficial in that the standard hasn’t dropped, and if anything, the competitions suit local rugby teams more than a 12 hour flight across the Indian Ocean.

There are, of course, still gremlins to get out of the system, but there will be a few local coaches who smiled at the result of the weekend, while wishing for that dream of a global season.

And an unseen game in Cork did that all by itself.