Rugby Union

SANZAR needs to re-think future Super Rugby competition

Super Rugby needs to expand past the Rugby Championship nations for the good of the game (©GettyImages)
Super Rugby needs to expand past the Rugby Championship nations for the good of the game (©GettyImages).

With broadcasting dealerships for the southern hemisphere's premier club competition running out at the end of the 2015 season, an expansion on the toughest club competition in the world is required from the organizing body.

This has caused a lot of debate as for what teams are going to be included in the future Super Rugby competition, with teams from South Africa, Argentina, the Pacific and even Asia all being thought of as potential contenders for Super Rugby participants from 2016 onwards.

Following the meeting in Sydney this week, SANZAR announced it's 'preferable' format would be a competition of 17 teams (therefore making it the Super 17), with the recently-relegated South African outfit the Southern Kings, of Port Elizabeth, to be included along with a brand new team from Argentina, probably to be based in Buenos Aires.

If this is to be, there would also be fewer local derbies, as all teams would play each other just once, like the old format from Super 12 and 14, and there would be no conferences.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for the expansion of Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere (and beyond), but the whole point of this expansion is for SANZAR to make more money, and to expand and develop the game of top quality, professional rugby to lower Tier One and Tier Two nations.

To me, adding only one team from South Africa, a powerhouse nation in world rugby, and an Argentinian team is not doing this. Again, don't get me wrong, this is a good step forward to both expanding and developing the game of top-quality, professional rugby to lower nations and making money for SANZAR, but there really does need to be more than just 2 added teams if SANZAR is serious about what they are trying to achieve.

If they are being serious about making money and expanding and developing high class professional rugby, teams from regions such as the Pacific Islands, Asia and even North America need to included in this future expanded competition.

The Kings and the Argentinian team are both good acquisitions to the tournament, but the needs more than that.

A Pacific team could be included, where home games are shared throughout Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

It would be crazy not to have a team here, considering the talent pool of players they have from these countries. Look at what history says. Look at the Tuilagi brothers and Brian Lima of Samoa.

Look at Rupeni Caucaunibuca of Fiji. Look at Sona Taumalolo and Pierre Hola of Tonga. And then look at the Pacific Islanders plying their trade for other countries.

Tana Umaga, Keven Mealamu, Mils Muliana, Joe Rokocoko, Doug Howlett, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea. All players who could have played for with Fiji, Samoa or Tonga if they hadn't played for the All Blacks. Lote Tuqiri, Israel Folau, Henry Speight.

All Pacific Islanders who have played for the Wallabies. And let's not forget the Vunipola brothers as well as Manu Tuilagi (named after Manu Samoa) all playing for England. Imagine if players of this calibre were playing in front of home crowds in Suva, Apia or Nuku'alofa in Super Rugby, before going on to play for their home country and the Pacific Islanders (the British and Irish Lions of the Pacific).

Not only would this increase the profile of Super Rugby in the Pacific, in would increase the profile and status of the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan national teams, all of whom have the potential to be international powerhouses.

Two Asian teams could also be included, one from Japan and one from elsewhere, probably Hong Kong. This would be a huge money-maker for SANZAR, as Asia is the economic capital of the world.

And not only would this be a huge money-maker for SANZAR, but a possible money-maker for the rugby world. I don't know a lot about business and economics, but I do know that with two Asian teams in the competition, there could be a possibility rugby could become a powerhouse sport in Japan and the wider Asian community, especially considering the inclusion of Japanese superstars Fumiaki Tanaka, of the Highlanders, and Shota Horie, formerly of the Rebels, in the competition.

The inclusion of two Asian teams in the biggest club competition in the world would mean money being poured into the sport from these economic powerhouses, which, like the Pacific teams, would increase the profile of  both the sport and national teams in these countries.

This would mean more crowds and more money for both SANZAR and the rugby world, as well as developing and expanding top quality, professional rugby in these regions.

A taste of this was seen when both the All Blacks played Japan in Tokyo last year, and the game was sold out, and the media attention in Japan on the All Blacks was at a new level in that country, and also through the Hong Kong Sevens tournament, considered the greatest sevens tournament on the planet.

A North American team could also be a realistic possibility. Canada, former World Cup quarter-finalists, have a fair amount of potential, as seen in the last World Cup by beating Tonga, while USA are considered the sleeping giants of world rugby.

The sport of rugby in North America looks as though it has potential, as both USA and Canada Rugby confirmed in 2012 that a future competition in the continent was on the horizon. This prospective competition is known as the NRFL (National Rugby Football League), and would feature teams mainly from the US, and a few from Canada, and would be the rugby equivalent of football's MLS.

This alone would not be enough to expand and develop the nations of Canada and the USA. A team from one of these two countries in Super Rugby would allow both Canada and the USA to realise their potential and become world powerhouses on both the Super Rugby and international stages. This can only be helped by the fact that the All Blacks will be playing in either New York, Chicago or Washington DC at the end of the year against the USA.

So, if I was at that SANZAR meeting in Sydney, I would have put forward this potential format for an expanded Super Rugby competition, where there are three conferences of seven teams (which effectively makes it a Super 21):

Australian-Asian Conference:

 - ACT Brumbies
 - Queensland Reds
 - NSW Waratahs
 - Melbourne Rebels
 - Western Force
 - Champion of the previous seasons' Japanese Top League*
 - New Franchise from Hong Kong

Pacific Conference:

 - Blues
 - Chiefs
 - Hurricanes
 - Crusaders
 - Highlanders
 - New Pacific Island franchise
 - Champion of the previous seasons' NRFL*

Atlantic Conference: 

 - Bulls
 - Sharks
 - Stormers
 - Cheetahs
 - Lions
 - Southern Kings
 - New Argentinian franchise  


(* = promotion/relegation between current Super Rugby participant and current champion of domestic league. Note - team participating in Super Rugby does not participate in domestic league in the same season)

Each team could play all other teams from same conference just once and all but one team from other two conferences once.

This results in less 'local derbies', an area of the competition where players have shown their disinterest of, while keeping the same number of games in the regular season as they already have (16). 

Following the completion of the regular season, the top two teams from each conference, plus two wild card teams (the highest placed teams that were not in the top two in their conference(s)) would go through to the quarter-finals, where it would be a straight up knock-out format, similar to that of the World Cup.

I cannot see any other format that can top this, and this format would be a fabulous way to grow the game of rugby throughout the Southern Hemisphere, Asia and North America, whether it be economically (Japanese/Asian teams) or through top quality, professional development (Pacific/North American/Argentinian teams).

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Topics:
New Zeland Rugby
Super 15
England Rugby
Australia Rugby
South Africa Rugby
Rugby Union

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