In a new series from the SA Rugby magazine team, DYLAN JACK wishes for a return to historical tours if the game is to be restructured following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, rugby – particularly in the southern hemisphere – seems to have got it all wrong progressing through the professional era.
Perhaps seduced by outstanding products such as Premier League and Uefa Champions League football – which runs over 10 months from August to May – Sanzaar has opted for a more-is-more idea and constantly tried to include more territories and teams in their tournaments.
Perhaps, the body didn’t fully consider the impact of extending both Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations on the calendar and player welfare.
The result was a bloated Super Rugby competition involving 18 teams divided in an overly complicated conference system. This only served to exhaust fans and players before the June Test series, let alone the Rugby Championship – which quickly became one-sided, predictable and repetitive.
Thankfully, Sanzaar has already announced that Super Rugby will return to 14 teams from 2021 onward, without yet specifying the tournament’s structure.
Indeed, a less-is-more approach is needed from the southern hemisphere. The demand for tickets for the 2019 World Cup and British & Irish Lions series shows that there is still a market for the right kind of rugby tournament.
Stormers coach John Dobson made an interesting point in a recent interview with SARugbymag.co.za when he pointed out, as an example, that England only play in Scotland every two years.
This is opposed to the Rugby Championship in which the Springboks face the All Blacks twice each year in a regular calendar. In fact, before they faced off in the World Cup pool stages, the Springboks and All Blacks had played against each other seven times – far too often to make any one Test significant.
What one could realistically do in the short term is hold the new Super 14 as a round-robin event with a shortened playoff structure in which only the top four progress to the semi-finals. Eventually the tournament could be whittled down to 12 teams, which would allow it to finish far sooner.
Something that certainly needs to change is the structure of the Rugby Championship. As I’ve said previously, the southern-hemisphere nations are simply playing against each other too often, reducing the significance of each Test in the grander scheme of things.
I would like to see a return to old-school tours where, for example, South Africa could play either Argentina, Australia or New Zealand in a three-Test series on a rotational basis. This would effectively reduce the number of times South Africa would host the All Blacks in each four-year cycle – making it far more significant when it does happen.
If the Rugby Championship does need to be played, it can held every two years, with each team playing each other once, instead of twice.