A considerable shake-up to Vodacom Super Rugby and the Sanzaar alliance is long overdue, and South Africa should happily break free, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
New Zealand Rugby has made its intentions clear. Following a three-month Aratipu review into both Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, they see the future as regional.
That much is clear.
For too long, an ever-expanding Super Rugby competition has come under fire for losing its lustre, and yet it had also seemed to still be viewed as a case of ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’.
The Sanzaar partnership has been the foundation on which so much has been based for such a long time that any significant change often appeared to be feared.
Yet, the rugby world as we know it is has been shaken to its core by the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand Rugby took the opportunity to closely review Super Rugby, and assess what they want going forward, and this has been made clear: a new competition in 2021 that ‘fans would love, that was competitive on the field, that players wanted to play in and that drove commercial growth that could be reinvested back into our game’.
That was how NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson put it in a statement released on Friday. They want to include a participant from the Pacific Islands, and will seek expressions of interest Rugby Australia.
Yet, New Zealand Rugby has also been clear that they aren’t interested in involving a host of teams from Australia that could dilute the competitive nature of the competition.
For now, Argentina and South Africa have been left out in the cold.
This all needs to be seen in the context of long-term thinking, with New Zealand Rugby clearly considering the possibility that international travel will still not be possible in 2021 due to restrictions as a result of COVID-19.
Just this past week, Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos also moved to insist that any ‘restructuring of Super Rugby through reformatted competitions does not necessarily mean the dismantling of the governing body’.
‘Due to the ongoing uncertainty over international travel for 2021 and beyond the member unions are also working on solutions past this year that will excite fans, broadcasters and deliver high-performance outcomes for the unions.’
Read into this what you will, but one way or another, SA Rugby should not be afraid to embrace change that has been escalated as a result of a world game that has come dramatically under review.
For so long, the benefits of embracing a move into northern hemisphere competitions have been voiced by plenty of high-profile players and coaches.
When it comes to travel, finances and a new product with commercial appeal, there are more than enough factors in favour of South African rugby blazing its own trail into a new competition from 2021.
As the world champs, it should not be underestimated what pulling power SA rugby and its players hold, while opportunities to even refocus on strengthening the domestic game have become increasingly relevant in an isolating world.
The time has arrived to roll with the changes.
Photo: EPA/Nic Bothna