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The Super split debate


  • 30 Jul 2013

We asked SARugbymag.co.za editor SIMON BORCHARDT and senior sports writer RYAN VREDE: Would it be good for South Africa to break away from Super Rugby?

BORCHARDT: YES

If Sanzar refuses to grant South Africa six franchises in an expanded Super Rugby tournament from 2016, which would allow the Kings and the Lions to compete, Saru may have no choice but to end the relationship and look for an alternative.

That alternative could involve six SA teams and perhaps two from Argentina, but with all of Argentina's top players in Europe, how competitive would their teams be? And how different would this tournament be from the Currie Cup, apart from the fact that the Boks would be available for it? No, for this competition to really compete with an Australasian-only Super Rugby, Saru would need to get the best European clubs involved.

Of course, these clubs already play in the European Cup and would presumably have to withdraw from it in order to take part in a new tournament involving South African and Argentinian teams. While this may sound unlikely, English Premiership and French Top 14 clubs last year threatened to break away from the European Cup because they feel the competition is weighted too heavily in favour of the Celtic nations (who don't have to qualify for it). They may just be willing to follow through with that threat if Saru comes up with a more attractive proposition.

South African rugby would benefit tremendously from a 20-team tournament that involved six sides from each of SA, England and France, and two from Argentina. There could be two pools of 10 teams (each pool would have three sides from each of SA, England and France, and one from Argentina), with pools changing each year. Teams would play the other sides in their pool once with the top two in each pool progressing to the semi-finals. A team that reached the final would therefore play just 11 matches, compared to the ridiculous 18 or 19 by Super Rugby finalists.

The benefits don't stop there.

South African players would spend a lot less time in aeroplanes and away from their families on tour, while SuperSport would be able to broadcast matches from England and France in the afternoons and evenings (SA time), instead of in the mornings when Super Rugby is played Down Under. South African players and fans may miss matches against teams like the Crusaders and Brumbies, but fixtures such as Bulls vs Toulon (welcome back, Bakkies) and Saracens vs Sharks would hold just as much appeal.

VREDE: NO

My thoughts on Super Rugby in its current 15-team guise are well documented. I think it's a ridiculous situation, with a tournament of diluted quality being sold to the public as a world-class product. But does that mean I'm ready for it to be scrapped altogether? No, not quite.

Borchardt is absolutely spot-on with his offering that any new tournament involving South African and European teams has to include the best teams from the respective countries or we risk establishing the most boring competition in world rugby. However, the likelihood of Europe's elite extracting themselves from the European Cup is remote, despite their recent posturing. The tournament has enjoyed renewed interest from public and players alike with the emergence of a number of strong competitors for the title.

This leaves South Africa's Super Rugby franchises with a far more realistic prospect of facing their countrymen and motley-crew teams from Argentina, Japan, USA and even Namibia (don't laugh, I have it on good authority that this is something Saru would consider). Part of the appeal of Super Rugby is that South Africa's best players can measure themselves against some of the best players in the world in the Australasian sides. It allows our elite boys to have a clear picture of where they are ahead and where they need to improve. The coaches in Super Rugby are among the best in the world, and thus push each other to continually advance tactics and seek new ways of improving players. It is no coincidence that the south has dominated the north at Test level for many, many years now. These factors all contribute.

I'm fully aware that the Sanzar partners' relationship is strained in a manner it hasn't been before, but if they resolve these issues and make changes to their Super Rugby product, there is a bright future for the tournament. The key in this regard is reducing the number of teams from 15 to 12 (four from each country) and having a second-tier competition to accommodate the remainder of the teams (which could include Argentinian, Japanese and USA teams), who would then compete for entry into Super Rugby proper. The two bottom-placed teams are relegated from Super Rugby at the end of the season, while the top side in tier two gains automatic entry into Super Rugby, with positions two to five contesting play-offs for the other promotion spot. It is likely that in the second season of this structure, Super Rugby will be unbalanced in terms of country representation, but that must not matter. The cream will rise to the top, and that's all we're looking for.

Australia and New Zealand's reported threat to split from South Africa lacks conviction. We are the biggest rugby-watching partner of the trio and that has a massive bearing on the richness of the broadcast deal. Without our audience watching their matches, Australasia's negotiating power is dramatically decreased. It is time the administrators of our game at Sanzar level start to throw their weight around, as opposed to getting bullied by the kids (relatively speaking) from Down Under.

Photos: Michael Sheehan/Simon Watt/BackpagePix/Getty Images

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