‘Reduce brutal NZ derbies’

They’re what whets the appetite for most onlookers each weekend, but Chiefs coach Colin Cooper is calling on Sanzaar to reduce the amount of New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby.

Speaking in the wake of his side’s 25-13 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night, Cooper has now seen enough in his return to the competition after a seven-year hiatus, to believe that the show can’t go on in its current form.

The all-Kiwi matchups are the most engaging of affairs though — hotly-contested and so often down to the wire, mixing extreme speed and skill with absolute willingness and brutality. The five teams in the NZ conference are invariably five of the better in the competition and there’s nothing better than seeing mate-on-mate action of such quality, often far superior to that on show in the other territories.

This year, with the competition reduced from 18 teams to 15, the number of derbies has increased. From playing six among their 15 regular season games the past two years, teams are again now playing eight in their total of 16 — getting a full home and away complement against their local rivals, just as they did from 2011-2015.

It’s great for fans and broadcasters’ ratings, and it reduces travel for the teams, but in the Kiwi ranks, the physical impact is all a bit much, if you ask Cooper.

In his team’s case, they already had a mammoth injury toll going into the season — they’ve fielded seven players who weren’t part of their original squad — and he’s wincing at the punishment his players are taking week on end.

“Back in the day we didn’t have these derbies,” he said in reference to his coaching of the Hurricanes from 2003-2010, where Super Rugby was a play-everyone-once scenario and the local matchups weren’t seemingly as pivotal because there was no conference system.