Top League: Why it has overtaken Super Rugby
When Will Genia and Quade Cooper compare the quality and merits of competitions around the world, it is worth listening to.
Apart from their status as renowned international players – Genia with 110 Test caps for Australia and Cooper with 70 appearances for the Wallabies – they also had, apart from their Super Rugby exploits, successful stints in France and now Japan.
They both play for the Osaka-based Liners team – who competed in the second-tier Top Challenge competition and will feature in the Top League elimination play-offs, which kick off on April 17.
Their opponents will be the bottom finishing side from the Red Conference of the Top League, which is likely to be the Honda Heat.
Both Cooper and Genia seem to share the sentiments of former All Black coach Wayne Smith – who recently denounced the state of the game in New Zealand as “robotic” and “predictable”.
Cooper said he enjoyed the ‘fast-paced’ game of the Top League and immersing himself into the Japanese culture, although he misses his family back in Australia – not being able to travel back and forth as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions
However, both he and Genia said the qualities of the game in Japan makes it worthwhile.
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“The Top League is what Super Rugby was 10 years ago,” Cooper told @rugby365com when asked about the qualities of the game.
“It is fast, exhilarating rugby,” he said, adding: “You have South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and players from Europe.
“That, for me anyway, was what Super Rugby was – it was fast, free-flowing rugby.
“However, it slowed down a bit from 2016 onwards. It [Super Rugby] got a lot more physical, but the speed of the game slowed down.
“That is what I find over here – the speed of the game is very high and it is challenging with a lot of players from all around the world.
“At the moment it is probably one of the top competitions in the world.”
It is very similar to what Smith suggested, when the Kobe-based Steelers team’s Director of Rugby spoke on The Breakdown TV program last week.
Smith, who coached the All Blacks between 2000 and 2001, suggested there was a lack of efficiency and effectiveness among sides playing in Super Rugby Aotearoa and called on teams to add some variability into their game.
The 63-year-old said the contrast in the styles of play between Japan and his home country was noticeable.
“One of the things I’ve noticed since I got back from Kobe about five weeks ago is everyone’s playing pods, so they’ll have three forwards off the No.9, for example, but we seem to have become kind of robotic, going through the phases,” Smith told The Breakdown.
“It’d be interesting to know how many phases does it take to score a try? I’m picking it’s probably three or four phases.
“Probably 75 percent of your tries come from those three or four phases. I’d like to see us be a bit more efficient and effective from those plays.”
Genia said the game in Japan is similar to a Barbarians set-up, because you get to play with different people from different countries and competitions from all over the world.
“It is certainly a serious competition,” Genia told @rugby365com.
“The quality of rugby being played took me by surprise. It is fast-pace and high intensity, with a lot of skill.”
He said what he enjoyed most about the Japanese culture is the hunger to learn, grow and get better.
“That mindset and attitude is infectious,” Genia said, adding: “It makes for good rugby and I am enjoying the challenge of the different style of rugby.”