SA Rugby should carefully consider whether a move to the northern hemisphere is worth potentially losing regular fixtures against New Zealand teams, writes DYLAN JACK.
The global halt in sports brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting travel and border restrictions have led to discussions over a feasible direction for rugby going forward.
As it is, the future of the southern-hemisphere Sanzaar partnership has been thrown into question more than ever.
The latest rumours swirling suggest that South Africa’s Vodacom Super Rugby franchises could be set to join the PRO14. According to Sunday newspaper Rapport, the move could even happen as early as next year.
The Cheetahs and Kings – who already partake – would be joined by the Lions, Vodacom Bulls, Stormers and Sharks. However, only five South African sides would be included in the tournament, meaning that one of the aforementioned teams would have to fall out. Who team that is, though, is a subject for another column.
This comes after renewed talks of Australia and New Zealand forming a trans-Tasman Super Rugby tournament, effectively ditching South Africa. Former All Blacks flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens supported the idea – calling for New Zealand to tap into the Asian market and play within their time zones.
Mehrtens is not the only fan of this idea, with reports indicating that Australian and New Zealand players also favour a trans-Tasman tournament including the Western Force and a Pacific Island team.
With all this said, it is clear that there are more questions than answers when it comes to the future of Sanzaar.
Logistically, a move to the north for South Africa makes sense. Closer time zones would make travelling so much easier and would take away four-week tours that are needed to accommodate trips to Australia and New Zealand.
Financially, closer time zones generally translate into a greater viewership, which means a move north would also boost SA Rugby in this manner. This would also give the South African franchises a better chance at keeping their best players.
However, SA Rugby would need to carefully consider the cons before possibly ditching Sanzaar.
Springbok wing Bryan Habana is one former player who has warned against a move to the north despite the benefits. Among Habana’s concerns were that Sanzaar needed to keep SA Rugby in order to keep the viewership from the northern hemisphere – who find it easier to watch a South African-based match than one in Australasia – and that South African players would struggle to adapt to playing in their traditional off-season in icy-cold December.
A major concern from this writer is that by moving to the north, SA Rugby would potentially be restricting the number of matches South Africa can play against New Zealand. By not playing against the All Blacks and New Zealand franchises on a regular basis, South African rugby could be harmed in the long term.
Of course, in order for the Sanzaar partnership to still be mutually beneficial, there does need to be a fair bit of rejigging done to the current tournaments. The Rugby Championship, in its current format, is predictable, repetitive and stale. I have previously written that it should be replaced by three- to four-week tours that have an old-school feel to them with the touring team playing midweek games against clubs or franchises.
Super Rugby also needs desperate resuscitation. The convoluted conference format makes the tournament overly long and does not reward teams for good form throughout the competition. Further, it only serves to confuse fans when it comes to playoffs.
An attractive solution would be to turn Super Rugby into a finals series involving two of the best teams from each nation, including two from Japan’s Top League. This is something that has already been discussed and I would strongly suggest looking further into it.
There is no doubt that SA Rugby will be carefully considering its options when it comes to deciding whether to stay or go. However, at this moment, I am leaning towards staying in the southern hemisphere as long as the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby can be reworked into better tournaments.
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