Following the latest exodus of South African players, DYLAN JACK and MARIETTE ADAMS debate whether SA Rugby should leave Sanzaar.
Jack says go
It has been a long and complicated relationship, with good and bad times, but the time has come for SA Rugby to break from Sanzaar and look north.
The major issue – Vodacom Super Rugby. It just doesn’t attract the numbers or big names that it used to. It is a competition that has become stale in every way.
While the latest reversion to 14 teams in 2021 is promising and could be a breath of fresh air, one has to consider that at that stage stars such as Handré Pollard, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits, the Du Preez brothers – Jean-Luc and Dan – and Eben Etzebeth could all be playing their rugby permanently overseas or in retirement (think Brits).
South Africa’s strongest franchises – the Vodacom Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions – could join the Pumas, Griquas, Kings and Cheetahs in an expanded Pro14 and Premiership Rugby Cup. A move like that could revitalise public interest in the game and bring South African franchises to the fore once again.
Firstly, to get the obvious out of the way, a partnership with the Six Nations has a clear advantage when it comes to travel. When one speaks to past and current Springboks who have played overseas, they have often motivated their decisions because they spent far less time away from their families in the north as opposed to the infamous four-week tours of Super Rugby.
Granted, the Cheetahs and Kings’ participation in the Pro14 has shown that it by no measure will bring an end to the exodus of senior players that South Africa is subjected to year after year. In fact, it can be argued that greater exposure to the Welsh, Irish and Scottish clubs has worsened the situation for these two franchises.
However, this becomes less of an issue for the greater good of the national team should SA Rugby align itself with the Six Nations. The Springboks simply cannot afford to keep ignoring their best players on the basis that they play overseas.
Furthermore, despite their relatively poor performance (the Cheetahs did impressively make the playoffs in their debut season), the Cheetahs and Kings have shown that a competition inclusive of Northern Hemisphere and South African teams is more than workable.
There are even more benefits when it comes to the sharing of ideas. While World Rugby’s new Nations Champions plan will allow South Africa to retain its relationship with New Zealand on an international level, our coaches and players benefit to an incredible degree at local level when exposed to northern hemisphere tactics.
In the end, with so many changes to the global rugby calendar taking place, SA Rugby would be crazy to simply ignore a chance to take up a partnership with the north. It may lead to the revitalisation the local game so desperately needs.
Adams says stay
With Sanzaar’s broadcast deal coming to an end in 2020, now is as good a time as any for SA Rugby to start considering its future and explore all possibilities.
The lure to simply abandon Sanzaar and head north is tempting. It would benefit South African teams from a travelling perspective, as well as – and more importantly – from a financial point of view. And it would most definitely strengthen the player depth locally as fewer players will head to European-based clubs.
That said, the move will not necessarily put a complete halt to the local player drain. Most overseas-based clubs have private owners, while SA Rugby is responsible for the financial sustainability of local teams. And as long as that is the case, our franchises will lose top players, irrespective of where we play.
It’s true that Super Rugby has been watered down to a second-rate competition, totally dominated by New Zealand-based teams. It has become so stale, and dare I say boring, that the powers that be have more than once looked to expand in order to breathe some life and inject a competitive streak into the tournament. But the title has been won by a New Zealand side six times in the last eight seasons, and the newcomers in the competition have not exactly set the world alight.
My colleague also mentioned that the conditions and style of play up north will suit South Africa better. All that may be true.
But can South Africa really afford not to play against the best teams and players in the world? Whether we like it or not, New Zealand have the best players and teams at franchise level. And fronting them on a weekly basis ought to strengthen our ranks too.
I say SA Rugby should consider playing its rugby in the northern hemisphere, but to rather wait until Sanzaar’s final proposal for the future of Super Rugby is tabled. Whether Rugby Australia, New Zealand Rugby and the Argentine Rugby Union want to admit it or not, SA Rugby holds more pulling power in this four-way partnership that they anyone else cares to admit.
Super Rugby can still be salvaged and restored to its former glory; and SA Rugby can gain a lot by staying in the southern hemisphere. But a complete overhaul of both the Sanzaar competition and of SA Rugby’s provincial structures are needed to get South African rugby back to a position of strength.
As things stand now, I think the best way forward would be to remain in the southern hemisphere for at least another term, during which time SA Rugby should consider the privatisation of some of its bigger unions, as they allowed to happen at the Kings.
If that is to happen, South African rugby will be better for it in the long run, regardless of where they play.