GAVIN RICH, writing in the Weekend Argus, believes the positives of the new format far outweigh the negatives.
'As Saru boss Jurie Roux readily conceded at a media briefing, the new Super Rugby format that will start in 2016 does have integrity issues.
'Not everyone in the competition plays everyone else, and the teams that play a double round of home and away fixtures against each other as opposed to just meeting once in a season will get determined in an arbitrary fashion. In 2016 the Stormers may play the Bulls home and away early in the competition, but the Sharks just once.
'With teams in one group of the South African conference set to play only against New Zealand or only against Australian teams in a given year during the cross-section phase in the middle of the competition, there is also the obvious imbalance that will come about in a season where the New Zealand conference is significantly stronger than the Australian one. I would say “or vice-versa”, but I can’t imagine that happening often.
'And the teams in the South African conference that has the AN Other or the TBC team in it could benefit hugely if that side comes from an area of the world where the financial clout wielded might be stronger than their rugby ability.
'But if those integrity issues are seen to be negatives, they are far outweighed by the positives. It is not as if every team in the current Super Rugby format gets to play every other side, and there are many top professional sporting competitions around the world that have similar integrity issues.
'It is not a perfect world, not everything can always be equal in sport, and if it was, the Proteas could not possibly be deposed as the No 1 Test team when they have only lost one series since 2008 and the team that replaces them at the top, Australia, have lost three since early December 2012. My point is that not everyone plays everyone else an equal number of times in Test cricket, and yet the sport takes the No 1 ranking seriously.
'If we agree that Super Rugby needed to be expanded to include more teams and embrace additional regions, but at the same time that there should be fewer games in the interests of player welfare, then a competition that saw everyone play everyone else was impossible.
'The number of league games to be played now has dropped by only one, but that is still significant in that it can create a much needed extra week to rest.
'Obviously, from both a South African and from a player viewpoint, the reduction in the time that the local teams will have to spend on the road is a huge step forward. Instead of playing four games in Australasia, the sides will play just two. That means a team, if it wants to, can leave South Africa on a Wednesday before the first overseas game and then be back in South Africa 12 days later.
'All the coaches talk about how tough it is to keep the players motivated and fit for that tough last week in four. Now the second week on tour will be the last week. From a psychological viewpoint, that is huge, and my money says we will see the South African performances on tour improve now that the imbalance between them and the New Zealand and Australian teams has been removed.
'The New Zealand and Australian sides will still tour South Africa, as they did before, but they won’t be playing fewer games here than the South African sides will be playing in Australasia.
'The new format won’t necessarily stop the flow of local players to the northern hemisphere, because the yen, the pound and euro are just too strong compared to our currency, but one of the big obstacles players faced when committing themselves to stay, meaning the travel, has largely been removed. The flight to Argentina for the one game there is a relatively short one and you can be in and out of Buenos Aires in a couple of days.
'Travel to a new destination, depending on which region tenders successfully for the TBC spot, and by the sounds of things that could even be Spain, will not be regarded negatively by the players as at least it will be somewhere fresh and new. Jean de Villiers has probably seen enough now of the hotel he stays in when he visits Wellington, which sometimes happens twice a year if you throw in the Rugby Championship.
'What I like most about the new format though is that it is not too much of a radical departure from the old one. It is up to the teams playing in the competition and the marketing gurus to bring the crowds back, for me it is important that the South Africa/New Zealand relationship is not broken, and for the reason I mentioned in my column last Sunday.
'If South African teams don’t play New Zealand franchises regularly we may end up living in a dream world where we think the type of rugby the Cheetahs played to beat the Stormers last week is innovative, forward thinking and is an indication that our rugby is in good health. We need the Kiwis to keep giving us a reality check.'
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images