‘SA can’t sustain six strong teams’

SA Rugby on why it's losing two franchises, what will happen to them, and sticking with Sanzaar. 

Which four SA teams will appear in the 2018 tournament? What mechanism will be used to decide?

The decision will start with the six current teams themselves as part of SA Rugby’s new franchise sub-committee which meets on Tuesday. All six Super Rugby teams are members of the committee. They will determine the criteria to be applicable to determine the four teams and from there a recommendation will be made to the Executive Council (Exco) for final approval by the General Council. The next scheduled General Council meeting is not until 2 August but we understand the need for certainty among teams and players and we will schedule a special general meeting to make that decision as soon as the Franchise Committee and Exco have done their work.

Why didn’t Sanzaar drop the Sunwolves or Jaguares instead?
The decision has to be put in context. This was part of a broader 10-year strategic plan for Sanzaar – not just a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term issue. Argentina are now a full partner of Sanzaar and their inclusion in the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby has added value to both competitions. The potential for growth in Asia of rugby and Sanzaar competitions is significant. It remains a focus for the organisation and establishing a Japanese Super Rugby franchise is key to that strategy. While South Africa had to admit that the challenges of sustaining six strong South African teams was unsustainable for SA Rugby.

Isn't SA Rugby 'killing rugby' in the affected regions/South Africa?
Professional, club and schools rugby will continue in those regions but there is no doubt that the affected franchises will face new challenges. But we know they will be performing against a background of a more vibrant and successful game as a whole – which we hope will have a ripple effect throughout all of rugby. Young players will continue to emerge and have pathways to follow a rugby career as we have seen with hundreds of examples of players who had emerged from a school in one province but pursued a professional career in another. The list is very long – and that route is totally unaffected. A South African team has not won the Super Rugby title for seven years and the spreading of talent across six franchises at a time when the lure of the euro and yen has never been stronger has changed our environment and we have to recognise and respond to that.

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Will the two 'relegated' teams be paid compensation?
That possibility will be discussed at a committee level before a determination is made.

Why didn’t Australia, rather than South Africa, drop two teams?
The question of the sustainability of six South African teams was a key factor while there was a broader 10-year strategic view which took into account market conditions of all members. Australia is in a highly competitive sports market and needs to retain as broad a footprint as possible; reducing to three Australian teams would damage not just Australian rugby but all of Sanzaar rugby.

Why didn’t New Zealand drop a team?
Appetite for the competition in New Zealand has been good: TV and live audience figures have comfortably outperformed those for SA and Australia and there was no clear high-performance imperative In terms of competitiveness as to why a New Zealand should fall out.

Is there a chance for the 'relegated' teams to come back?
There is no formal mechanism in place but this is not the end of the story for Super Rugby. There will be changes in the years ahead but we have to get the competition right now before we can commit to anything else.

Does this mean every team will play every other team in the new competition?
The format is being finalised but because of the size of the window teams will play 12 of the other 14 in log play.

Did New Zealand lead the discussion and request that South Africa and Australia drop teams?
Absolutely not. This was part of a broader 10-year strategic view which all the partners shared.

ALSO READ: Aussies wanted SA out of Super Rugby

How long is the 15 team tournament in place for?
This format will be in place for the next three seasons, until the expiry of the current broadcast agreement in 2020.

What will happen to the contracts of the players in the relegated teams?
The teams will not cease to exist and they will still have a minimum of 20 matches to play in 2018 (up to a maximum of 25). Contracts may have to be amended but as we hope to concentrate more good players in fewer franchises loan arrangements and transfers may occur.

Aren’t you worried that you’re taking away the livelihoods of players and their families?
Unfortunately a career in professional sport has never come with a guarantee of a settled income – it’s one of the risks that comes with the rewards. The better players will be taken up by the remaining franchises and those that aren’t will still have the opportunity to pursue provincial careers.

Won’t this mean more players head overseas?
It will mean that the SA rugby community has more concentrated financial resources to contract the better players at fewer franchises but some others may head overseas – but as great a risk to us is the value of the rand against the euro than the number of Super Rugby teams we field.

Have you spoken to Sarpa/MyPlayers about this?
They have a representative on our Executive Council so have been inside the process from the very first stages that the strategic planning began.

ALSO READ: SA Rugby must expedite process – MyPlayers

Two years ago Sanzaar said a 15-team competition was stale and needed freshening up. And now you’ve gone back to 15 – what’s different?
We were probably slow to recognise it, but the broadcast and viewing market was already changing two years ago and it has evolved rapidly in the time since the decision was taken. Globally both live audiences and broadcast audiences for sports events are under pressure or in decline as lifestyle and viewing habits change. The fans are telling us that they want fewer matches but of a higher quality in which they are more engaged. When Super 12 launched its brand promise was essentially the best players in the world playing in the best competition in the world. That’s what we’re striving to get back to.

Did you consider going back to 12 teams?
We started with a clean slate and it was an option that was looked at but the reduction in the number of the games, the commercial value and in the elite playing pools in the core territories counted against it.

Why not two divisions?
Super Rugby is already the most logistically expensive team sport in the world and to create two divisions would add to that expense while the potential appeal of what could be regarded as a second-rate lower tier of the competition is far from proved.

Why doesn’t South Africa leave Sanzaar and play against the European teams?
First of all you need a willing opponent and secondly you need a suitable window. Neither of those are currently in place or are likely to be in the short term. But SA Rugby has also taken a strategic decision that our future lies with Sanzaar – we may not be in the same time zone but we are in the same playing season and rugby cultural zone. Sanzaar competitions are the best in the world and if we want the Springboks to be the best team in the world – which we do – then we have to play and excel in Sanzaar competitions.

What do the broadcasters/sponsors say?
SuperSport has been with us in these conversations every step of the way and understand the imperatives and support the decision.

Did the change of format affect the value of the broadcast deal?
That formed part of the conversation with broadcasters and as they shared our vision to increase the competitiveness of the competition and address fan concerns about integrity they have agreed to the new format without a variance on the value of the deal.

ALSO READ: ‘Kings can add value to Super Rugby’

Won’t removing two teams be a major blow to transformation/rugby as it reduces the elite player pool?
Springboks are made in schools and in this professional era the best of them are picked up by the major provinces before they have even left. That won’t change, it’ll just mean the competition is even more intense and the standards for success will be set higher. That applies to players whether they are white or black. The requirements of our Strategic Transformation Plan are in place and if our franchises live up to those goals then our transformation plan will prosper.

Won’t this reduce the choices for the national coach?
It’ll mean he’ll be choosing a Bok squad from a smaller, more competitive and hopefully more successful pool of about 160 players (rather than 240) – that should be enough.

OPINION: SA Rugby draws short straw

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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