A new 18-team Super Rugby competition will include two South African conferences, reports JON CARDINELLI.
The Super Rugby tournament will expand in 2016, with three teams added to the current roster. This will necessitate a restructuring of the regular season, and Sanzar believes that a four-conference system is the best way forward.
Eight teams will be spread across the first two conferences, which will be called Africa 1 and Africa 2. Each of these conferences will feature three South African teams, while a side from Argentina and a franchise which is yet to be confirmed will occupy the fourth slot in either group.
This will ensure that all six of South Africa's franchises have a place at the Super Rugby table. The Southern Kings will join the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks, and Stormers when the new structure is implemented in 2016.
The third conference will comprise the five existing Australian teams, while the fourth will be made up of the five New Zealand franchises.
One hundred and thirty five matches will be played across the regular season, while the three-week final series will feature eight teams and seven matches. The winners from each of the four conferences, as well as four wildcards, will progress to this series.
That is fairly straightforward. Where it begins to get complicated is the structure of the regular season.
Each side will play 15 games during this part of the competition, but a lot will depend on the draw and, in the case of South African sides, in which Africa conference they are placed.
For example, if the Bulls are placed in Africa 1, they will play against the other three teams in that conference on a home and away basis. They will also play four matches against the teams in the Africa 2 conference.
Teams placed in Africa 1 will play their remaining five games against the five Australian sides. Teams in the Africa 2 conference will play those five matches against the five New Zealand sides.
This schedule against the Australian and New Zealand teams will alternate from season to season. In other words, if the Bulls are in Africa 1 come 2016, they will play against the five Australian sides and avoid the New Zealand teams during the regular season. In 2017, however, the Bulls will have a tougher schedule in that they will need to tackle all five New Zealand sides.
The make-up of each African conference is yet to be determined.
This model is thought to be an attractive one, given the overseas travel demands for South African teams have been cut by as many as two weeks. It's also hoped that the new schedule will create excitement around the big international clashes.
For example, the Bulls won't play the Crusaders every season. The Sanzar bosses hope to create more hype around these sorts of games. Overall, the attendance and television viewership figures in 2014 have not been good.
While the details are yet to be confirmed, what's certain is that Super Rugby will expand to 18 teams in 2016, and to even more teams later on.
While that is not up for debate, the structure of the competition is by no means fixed. It could be that the model mentioned above is modified or altered if it is not working.
By September this year, we should know exactly who will represent Argentina in one of the African conferences, and who will be filling the other slot.
South Africa is set to field six teams in 2016, but could tender for a seventh. The decision of whether to push for yet another South African franchise or not is still to be discussed.
Other options are being explored. While it's possible that a team from Europe or the USA could occupy that slot, the 18th and final piece of the Super Rugby puzzle is more likely to come from Asia.
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