The Brumbies are Super Rugby Au Champions, but are they Super Rugby Champions? And should their championship come with an asterisk?
The asterisk, for some teams, is a badge of honour, showing that a team triumphed in the face of adversity. For others, It’s a sign of disrespect, implying that the team only won because of some extenuating circumstance.
There are plenty of examples of championship teams who have an asterisk attached. Some recent examples include:
- 2018/19 Toronto Raptors who played an injury-depleted Warriors team in the NBA finals.
- 2010 Collingwood who drew the AFL Grand Final with St Kilda only to beat them a week later.
- 2014/15 Golden State Warriors who won against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that lost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to injuries.
- Probably the 2020 NBA champions for all the reasons I’m about to outline.
There are other examples but I think you get the point.
The purpose of this column is to figure out if the asterisk attached to the Brumbies championship should be worn as a badge of honour, or if it will be seen as a diminished accomplishment.
Badge of Honour
If you ask Giannis Antetokounmpo he will tell you that winning a championship during the COVID-19 pandemic “is going to be the toughest championship you could ever win.” This rings true for the NBA, but I think many of the reasons it’s tough in the NBA also made winning a Super Rugby premiership just as difficult.
Let’s start with the pre-COVID season. In a move to provide the Wallabies with an uninterrupted test window starting in July (instead of the traditional June test window). SANZAAR moved the season forward three weeks with the first games kicking off on the last day of January.
While three weeks may not seem like a lot the flow-on effect from that decision was significant. For the test level players in Australia, they finished their World Cup campaign on October 19. And, the Super Rugby players who were left behind, competed in the NRC which finished a week later on the 26th of October.
Generally, a professional team would want about 12 weeks for pre-season. Whereat the end of the 12th week they’re playing their first competitive game. So for a Super Rugby team to get its full pre-season. They would have needed to start on Monday the 28th of October. This is assuming that the players were given 2 weeks off for Christmas. Thus eliminating any rest window the players may have had after the previous season.
Then without much warning, the season came to a screeching halt on Monday the 16th of March.
During the three-month stand-down, the players were forced to take around a 60 per cent pay cut, while being expected to continue training at home, on their own.
Only on June 10 was it officially announced to the public that Super Rugby would make a return. the Brumbies were able to return to training in May but under heavy restrictions. By the time restrictions were lifted the players only had 3-4 weeks to get match ready.
And, as if matters weren’t difficult enough, during all of this the players only agreed to a new pay deal days before the start of the new season.
That’s a hell of a lot of adversity for one team (and one sport for that matter) to face in a single season.
Mark of Disrespect
This isn’t going to be a popular opinion and it’s actually a little painful for me to write. But, it’s not exactly a hot take. The Brumbies haven’t really played anyone this season.
Before the shutdown, the Brumbies had played 6 games, winning 5. Those 5 wins came against the Reds, Rebels, Waratahs, Sunwolves and Chiefs. Four of those teams, at the time, occupied the bottom half of the standings. With the Chiefs being the lone team in finals contention (more on them in a second).
Their lone loss came against the Highlanders. Who at the time of the shutdown had just one win of their name.
I hate comparing past results because as is the nature of this competition any team can win on their day. But, if we look at Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Highlanders finished in 4th and the Chiefs finished in 5th (last). It’s a bit damning.
Maybe if one of those wins had come against the Crusaders or the Sharks I wouldn’t be writing this. But the hard truth is that the Brumbies only picked up 1 win against a team in the top half of the original Super Rugby ladder. And, dropped a game (at home) to a team in the bottom 3.
I’ve presented both sides of the argument and you’re probably wondering where I sit with this. So, here’s what I think.
I agree with Giannis, this premiership for the Brumbies was one of the toughest in History. Not just for the Brumbies, but the fans, the official, the club footballers and the game. Every person who contributed to this win should be incredibly proud of what they achieved. And, just because it wasn’t a win in the ‘traditional format’ it should not diminish the accomplishment.
The Brumbies should wear that Asterisk with pride. Knowing they accomplished something no team will probably ever again. They triumphed in the face of a pandemic that almost killed the game.
The Brumbies are Super Rugby Au Champions, the Crusaders are Super Rugby Aotearoa Champions, and the Sharks were sitting in 1st place prior to Super Rugby’s cancellation. We’ll never know who the lone Super Rugby 2020 Champion would have been. And, in the aftermath of all this, we have a much better rugby product and endless opportunities to reshape the game. So, maybe in this case the adage rings true… The real winner? Rugby.