On fielding weakened teams

The MASSIVE match this coming weekend is the MASSIVE clash between MASSIVE rivals, the Stormers of Cape Town and the Bulls of Pretoria in the Super 14 rugby tournament. And there’s a MASSIVE amount at stake, with the Stormers looking for a lucrative (and potentially winnable) home semi-final, which they will get if they win this game.

The Bulls have a had a great season and are already guaranteed to finish top: they will have home advantage for both the semi-final and the final (assuming they win that semi). And – safe in the knowledge that those conditions are already fulfilled – they are going to field a weakened team against the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday. And that has led to protests from teams in Australia and New Zealand, as Kevin McCallum explains:

At 4.52am on Tuesday morning, the whining began nine time zones away. An email arrived in inboxes from the Sydney Morning Herald with the headline: “Blow to Waratahs as Bulls set to rest stars in South African stitch-up.”
The stitch-up? Well, having already secured for themselves the number one spot in the league, the Bulls are considering giving Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Gurthro Steenkamp et al a rest ahead of the semifinal. Not an entirely unreasonable move, you might say. Not across the water, however.

“It reeks of a South African stitch-up in the Super 14,” reads the report.
“With one round to go, the integrity of rugby’s premier provincial competition could be compromised with tournament leaders, the Bulls, set to field a second-string team against the Stormers in the top-of-the-table clash in Cape Town.
The Waratahs, currently third on the ladder with 38 points and one point behind the Stormers, will get to play a semifinal at the Sydney Football Stadium if they beat the Hurricanes on Friday night and the Stormers lose to the Bulls. Such a game could boost the Waratahs’ coffers by several hundred thousand dollars.
The odds of the Stormers hosting a semifinal in Cape Town will be shortened if the Bulls field a weakened team. Such a result would be unfair to teams such as the Waratahs and the Crusaders from Christchurch who are both seeking a home semifinal and have both lost to full-strength Bulls teams this season.”

The thing is – while their suggestion that the Bulls would ever do the Stormers any sort of favour in this regard is laughable – and much as I hate to agree with whining Aussies – they’re actually correct. It’s completely unfair and it shouldn’t be allowed.

But my feelings on this issue go far deeper than just this silly egg-chasing event on Saturday. As a Sheffield United fan, I’m fed up with the big sides playing weakened teams for matches against relegation-threatened smaller teams. Who can forget the team that Liverpool put out against Fulham in May 2007? Well, everyone actually, because no-one had ever heard of any of the players. Two of them were still in nappies.
Of course, Liverpool (Reserves) promptly lost that game, Fulham got the 3 points and stayed up at our expense.

Red scum Manchester United are famed for resting players ahead of “big” games: against West Ham in 2007, against Hull last season.
And this season, Fulham were found not guilty of fielding a weakened side, despite resting 5 of their key players for a game against the Tigers.

Look, my rationale on this is fairly simple, so even Bulls supporters should be able to follow it without too much difficulty:

If you’re playing in a knockout competition, like the FA Cup (or like a Super 14 semi-final), then as far as I’m concerned, you can field who the hell you like. Field your 6 year old granddaughter at scrum-half if you want. Because, when that decision backfires (and it usually will, because she’s rubbish) and she fumbles a greasy ball at the back of a 79th minute ruck on your 22 and the opposition runs in the winning try, the only team affected by your silly idea is yours. Hard luck, sunshine.
However, if you are in a league competition, where that 79th minute winning try might affect other teams aside from the one you’re playing against, then fielding a 6 year old should not be allowed. And yes, even though the Bulls have “earned” themselves the right to rest their big names, they really shouldn’t be allowed to.

This is based on fairness and on logic. I have carefully stayed away from the emotional “the fans pay good money and don’t get to see the big names” argument, though it should probably be considered by SANZAR when (if?) the weakened teams issue is discussed.

I’m not suggesting that they should alter the rules before this Saturday – that wouldn’t be fair on the Bulls. Ag, Shame.
But there should be a new ruling and some clarity over what constitutes good sportsmanship over this issue, which will surely arise again in future seasons. In the meantime, as far as I’m concerned, the Aussies and the Kiwis have every right to cry foul.

14 thoughts on “On fielding weakened teams

  1. Fielding so called second string teams, when the situation is right, can serve a purpose.

    Firstly you are giving the players on the edge of the first team selection a chance to put their hand up and show why they should be included in the first team.

    Secondly, the Bulls know that the Stormers will be coming at them hard next week as they have to win the game. This opens the opportunity for injuries on the Bulls players who might not be playing with the same level of intensity, as they have nothing to gain or loose from this match. Keeping your front line players fit and injury free for the upcoming knock out phase is import.

    That said, it does not always provide the spectacle that people are wanting to see, but it can make tactical sense.
    .-= Phaezen´s last blog ..Game Inspiration – Creatures =-.

  2. Phaezen > OK. Thanks for the comment and I agree with all of what you’ve put there.
    But you’ve dodged the one big question – in this situation – IS IT FAIR?
    And I don’t think it is.

  3. As to whether this practise is fair or not, difficult question and one where a persons answer might be strongly altered by what their particular teams stands to gain or loose in the situation. Personally I would say allow it within reason.

    Have each team nominate a starting squad at the beginning of the competition. At no stage may more than 5 players in that list not be part of the starting squad for a particular game. With allowances for injuries of course. This might also almost force teams to have smaller squads and prevent rich clubs hoarding top players.

    As for the righteous indignation been shown by the Australians, I have no doubt that they have and would rest key players where the situation allows it. I don’t think the that fact that they will be playing the Stormers that has played much part in the Bulls team selection, and feel they would have fielded the weakened team no matter who they were playing this week.
    .-= Phaezen´s last blog ..Game Inspiration – Creatures =-.

  4. Phaezen > It’s a nice idea. And yes, the Aussies would probably rest players too in that situation. And it’s an weird one, with 2 v 1, 6 v 4 and 3 v 5.
    All to play for and no-one could have foreseen it.
    But two wrongs and all that.
    S14 need to have something in place to stop this happening again, before next season.

  5. Strange that no-one has made mention of the Lions and Cheetahs resting their entire starting 15 for the whole season so far…

    On a more serious note, would there have been so much interest in the Bull starting 15 if this had been at the beginning stages of the competition?
    The competition is set up in such a way that it’s not a normal league style, points are gained to feature in a play-off situation. If this was a real league, the Bulls would have won outright and no-one would care who they were playing.
    As per the competition rules, the Bulls are playing the players they have available in their squad, so it’s fair from that stand-point.

    The Stormers could also be said to be at a disadvantage as they have to play all out rugby in order to secure a home semi and risk injury/fatigue in doing so.

    From the Bulls side, it’s a great opportunity to blood some new players and see how they react in a big match environment and to reward the bench warmers with some decent game time.

  6. Reflex > Kevin McCallum’s article DOES actually mention the CheetaSSS and the Lions. And the Sharks win last week!
    Agreed that it wouldn’t be such an issue at the beginning of the season, but then it wouldn’t have happened at the beginning of the season.

    Still think they should play full strength all the time. Fairer that way.

  7. Bulls no1 proirity is to win the competition. They have played themselves into the position where this game is meaningless to them, so let them reap the benefits of their season. Resting players and reducing risk of injuries will help them in the finals, so I don’t see any problem with it.

  8. My first reaction was going to be to quote something I saw on twitter the other day.

    But I get your point on fairness.

    I also find it interesting that the Kiwi’s are complaining about this, the Crusaders often used to rest their first team when playing against some weak SA sides, when they were convinced they would win. In this case the Bull’s just don’t care if they win. Maybe it backfires, remember what happened to the All Blacks at the last world cup after resting their squad for half the Super14.

    I am a bit surprised that the super14 rules don’t have something about making such huge team changes. But this is after all how laws are changed and refined, someone has to test the existing set before they are modified. It is a legal evolution.
    .-= Ron´s last blog ..Roger, Elaine and a White Horse =-.

  9. Stan > And if you were a Waratahs fan?
    As I said – we (Sheffield United) have been on the receiving end of it and the – believe me – it stinks.

    Ron > Maybe it will backfire. I heard Robbie Deans saying that they would “lose momentum”
    Sure, it’s a toughie – maybe the Bulls have earned the right. But my gut feeling is that it’s wrong.

  10. Waratahs should have done better throughout the season, its their own fault that it comes down to the last game. The first part of the competition is over 13 games, so tough luck.

  11. In a league compo, everyone gets to play everyone so it’s a level playing field. If the Bulls have performed better than the other teams at this point, they have the right to do whatever suits them. How can you ever legislate against this kind of thing. It’s always the relegation stragglers and the nearly-there teams complaining about this kind of thing. If they were stronger and had taken care of their own destiny earlier it would be irrelevant. So toughees to all those Kiwi whingers and lets all look fwd to an all SA final in Soweto.

  12. One Carlos Tevez. There’s only one Carlos Tevez. One Carlos Tevez. There’s only one Carlos Teveeeez.

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