The South Africa-Lions series brought it into sharp focus – do the ends justify the means when it comes to winning rugby games? A debate from our October 2021 issue


Face-off: Are results more important than entertainment?

YES, says the freelance South African rugby journalist

Yes, yes and 1,000 times again, yes.

It’s easy to fall into the camp of wanting to be entertained, but sport is a simple business. What counts is winning. Sure, there are moments to be savoured, those which you will remember for a long time, but the only thing that matters is whether or not you come home with the trophy.

It’s the same for any sport, whether England’s footballers or the British & Irish Lions. We can sit and talk until the cows come home but history books have no remarks column.

New Zealand were in depression after drawing the 2017 Lions series and while this year’s Lions series has seen inches of copy given to former players and coaches criticising the style of play, you won’t find many complaints in South Africa. Because being on the right side of the scoreboard is what counts.

Allister Coetzee’s Springboks tried to entertain, and had several attacking players in their ranks. And they lost to England, Italy and shipped 57 points against New Zealand. What Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have done with the Boks is make them a ruthless machine, intent on getting the result. So while others will harp on about boring rugby, the Boks keep on winning. And they keep their fans happy.

Face-off: Are results more important than entertainment?

All South African fans care about is seeing their team win trophies, says Nel (MB Media/Getty Images)

And boring rugby? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. In the Lions series all the Springboks’ tries were scored by backs – the two Lions’ tries came from rolling mauls.

The Boks are firm believers in earning the right to go wide. And they know that with a strong set-piece, opposition teams are unlikely to threaten them up front. Coupled with the best defensive system in world rugby, they have become very difficult to beat.

Yes, everyone wants to see end-to-end tries and players beating a man one-on-one. But for that we have sevens. The Boks have a World Cup and a Lions series in their trophy cabinet. Do you really think they care about being labelled as boring?

NO, says the analyst, journalist and former England fly-half

Name the most successful team in the history of the professional game. It’s clearly New Zealand. The World Cup is a relative blip with ‘just’ three wins but their win:loss ratio is one of the more staggering displays of global dominance in world sport.

Name the most entertaining international team in the world. Yes, New Zealand again. Winning might be ‘everything’ for the All Blacks but the manner in which they play is even more than ‘everything’. The long-faced, diehard fans won’t like this but the All Blacks are the best because they focus on being entertaining, they are fast-skilled and bloody hard to stop.

I understand that Saturday Night Light Entertainment gives the E word a bad name but rugby is professional these days and someone has to stump up the costs. Can you imagine how long the game will remain the high-profile televised sport it is if it continues to deliver the dross of the recent Lions series? The 21st century is full of viewing options.

Yes, that series was about winning at all costs. A pressurised environment primarily for the players. In the dawn of time, when I played for Bath we didn’t care what anyone thought as long as we won… And the fans didn’t seem to care about the manner in which we won.

All Blacks

New Zealand are the most entertaining rugby nation on earth… and consistently also the best (Getty)

But that was then, the game was amateur. Now it is professional and happy tribes who wallow in collapsed scrums are not going to sustain a sport struggling to produce the package.

Neutrals cannot continue to love most of the crap on display. Viewing figures will collapse. ‘Winning is all’ belongs in the past. Try watching New Zealand without caring who wins. It’s entertaining. It’s also the only positive future for professional rugby union.

Face-off: Are results more important than entertainment? We want to know what YOU think. Email your views to

This debate first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Rugby World.