SA Rugby shouldn’t be fazed by New Zealand’s act of self-interest and self-preservation. In fact, it’s time to follow suit, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
As far as rugby bombshells go, NZ Rugby dropped one that resonated across the Indian Ocean and hit South Africa with a bang as we arose to the news on Friday that our Sanzaar ‘partners’ were keen to go it alone from next year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition onwards.
Well, they are keen to include one side from the Pacific Islands, and have generously suggested they will gauge the interest from Australia Rugby. But it’s also been made pretty clear they don’t see too much value in including all of Australia’s professional sides.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the board had approved a number of key recommendations aimed at establishing 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’.
Fair play. Good luck and goodbye, it seems.
As it is, there have been plenty of reactions to New Zealand’s announcement, but there was also a lot to be said for SA Rugby’s response, which gave away very little … or did it?
‘SA Rugby has been kept abreast of the thinking in New Zealand and of the outcomes of the Aratipu Report to address the immediate challenges of travel restrictions that may stretch into 2021,’ SA Rugby’s statement diplomatically read.
‘As part of the Sanzaar joint venture we will be examining how the mooted new competition will fit into the existing contracted competitions.’
Reading between the lines, to me that also reads: ‘Hold my beer, let’s just wait a minute and double check that pesky old thing called a contract.’
Before the rugby world was rocked to its core in 2020, the understanding was that all of Sanzaar’s contracts ran until 2025.
The implication now seems to be that New Zealand Rugby believes those contracts no longer apply in the context of Covid-19’s unprecedented impact on the global game.
Let’s get clarity on that first, but one way or another, there is surely no way back now.
So, where to next?
North seems to be the obvious route for South African sides, and enough has already been said and written about why this would be a logical next step.
The key for SA Rugby is to ensure this move returns all the expected benefits. New Zealand has moved to first and foremost look after its own interests and this line was a particularly key element of the Friday bombshell outlining what NZR is looking for: ‘commercial growth that could be reinvested back into our game’.
In a time of extraordinary financial challenges, it’s crucial for any pathway into northern-hemisphere competitions to have rewards that are worth the risk.
If the Kings and Cheetahs would have to be cut from an expanded PRO14, that would bring challenges of its own. And if all South Africa’s professional sides were involved, would that allow for a qualification process to be opened up for entry to the high-profile Champions Cup?
Change is afoot, formal alliances are under threat, and in years to come SA Rugby will want to ensure it can look back at 2020’s change of course as a blessing in disguise.
There is a lot to lose, but there could also be everything to gain.