Governing body SANZAR are reportedly considering a controversial enlargement of the Super Rugby format, adding in three more teams potentially as soon as the 2016 season. Two Argentinian teams could be added, while they are also committed to including the Southern Kings, the South African franchise relegated from this year’s competition, on a permanent basis.
The new format would see the current three-log competition split into two separate leagues. The difference would be that instead of playing clubs outside of their league – like at the moment, for example, when the South African franchises travel to Australia/NZ, and vice versa – all clubs would participate just in their own league, with a certain number of the top teams progressing to play-offs against those from the other league.
The proposal is to create an Australia-New Zealand league, and a South Africa-Argentina league – with the possibility even of adding Japanese teams in the future. The reason for this is that the current 21-week playing window cannot be lengthened, so despite there being more teams there cannot be any more playing weekends. This is partly down to the fact that all three unions are adamant that their derby games be played home and away.
The inclusion of Argentinian, and potentially Japanese, clubs is undoubtedly a step forward for the global appeal of the game, and great news for two up-and-coming rugby nations, but will it have adverse side effects on the Super Rugby competition? While the players’ bodies might be grateful for not having to make long trips to South Africa, there will be some big games to be culled from the calendar and it is tough to see the fans being happy with that, given many think the current 15-team format is somewhat convoluted.
From a South African point of view, it would ease the political pressure on SANZAR to include the Southern Kings, whose debut season was entertaining if ultimately unsuccessful, on a permanent basis.
“We really understand the desire for that from South Africa,” said SANZAR Chief Executive Greg Peters. “The Kings have 32% of the playing population, and 72% of that is coloured. We understand the need for six teams in South Africa.”
SANZAR and the ARU are also battling to have the June International window moved to July so as not to interfere with the Super Rugby season – but that is a proposal that is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Northern Hemisphere, given their equally-lengthy season and tiny window for rest in the summer.
What do you make of this new proposal? Is it a step in the right direction, or is it merely further convoluting an already cluttered schedule?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Picture: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images