Andrew Mehrtens recently wrote on stuff.co.nz that, as Super Rugby approached its 20th year, it was time to shake up the tournament’s structure. He advocated ditching the South African franchises, and instead including sides from nations that were aligned with Australia and New Zealand’s time zone; the likes of Japan and the Pacific Islands.
It is not a new idea, but the former New Zealand fly-half is certainly one of the biggest names to throw his weight behind it in recent times. The advantages are as obvious as they are numerous: there would be more local derbies (injecting more ‘parochialism’, as Mehrtens puts it, into the game), the introduction of top level domestic rugby to places like Japan, the Pacific Islands and Argentina would be a huge boost for the global game, and viewing figures would be boosted as there would never be cases of fans having to get up at silly hours in the morning to watch their teams.
To illustrate that final point, current Super Rugby kick-off times for viewers in New Zealand are as follows:
19:35 – local NZ games
22:10 – Australian east coast games
01:10 – Perth
03:00, 05:00 – SA games
Only the most die-hard of fans are going to get up for a 03.00 AM kick-off, while the commercial aspect of it is even more baffling – who is going to buy an advertising space at one in the morning? Looking at it like that, localised kick-off times make a lot more sense.
One of Mertens’ former teammates, Jeff Wilson, dubbed his idea ‘madness’, arguing that Super Rugby was the closest thing to test level rugby precisely because it brought the contrasting styles of the South African, New Zealand and Australian franchises together.
Travel, argues Wilson, shouldn’t be a problem because it is part and parcel of international sport – but then, should it be part of the club game too? Mehrtens points out that a more localised club game would allow for more frequent, and longer, international tours – occasions that are becoming increasingly marginalised.
Of course, as anyone who followed the recent European rugby saga will know, the amount of bureaucracy and red tape that would have to be fought through to make this happen would be astronomical. But imagine for a moment that the IRB have intervened and the prospect of realignment is a real possibility; would you support it?
With the help of our friends over at SuperBru, we put together a little survey polling people from some of the nations this would affect (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and the UK). The results are below.
Q: If international club rugby (Super Rugby, European Rugby Champions Cup etc) could be rebooted, how would you organise it?
– Around hemispheres as it is now (SA plays Aus and NZ teams, European teams play each other)
– Around time zones (SA teams play European teams, Aus and NZ play Japanese and Pacific teams)
– Neither of the above
|UK / Europe||40.77%||35.80%||23.43%|
The results must be taken with a pinch of salt as the test samples were slightly different sizes according to country, but nevertheless a couple of interesting trends emerge. The desire for change seems to be strongest in the UK, with only 41% of those polled believing the current system, arranged around hemispheres, to be the right one. That numbers soars to 59% in New Zealand, where it is perhaps unsurprising that the fans are happiest with the current set-up given that their team are number one in the world.
Mehrtens, however, is a Kiwi, and his views are geared towards the long term future of the game where a globally aligned season played out along time zone lines would make sense on so many levels. The chances of seeing it implemented in the near future are slim, but is it something you support? Leave your thoughts below.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images