The hemispherical divide: detrimental to the future of club rugby?

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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?

Possible answers:
– 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

HemispheresTime zonesNeither
South Africa54.14%28.33%17.53%
Australia51.50%33.10%15.40%
New Zealand58.94%27.81%13.25%
UK / Europe40.77%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

4 thoughts on “The hemispherical divide: detrimental to the future of club rugby?

  1. Thing is, neither of those alternatives addresses the impact on Argentina, should they want to expand their club game outside their borders. Who could they play in the Americas if you’re looking at Time-zone delineation? If they’re brought into the Super fold, their kick-offs wouldn’t suit *any* of the other SH countries.

    More important is surely a re-alignment of the calendar, so that the Domestic, club-international, RWC and international tours are synced up globally. Whether that means the season is split up, so we have an Autumn/Spring game globally, Play the Domestic and continental games in a block each starting in August/Sept for Domestic, then ERCC/Super15 November through to Jan, then knockouts for both Domestic/Continental in Feb finishing up with finals in mid-March time. Internationals (Championship/6 Nations/ Tours) in April/May/June so that the squads can have 5 weeks prep before the RC and 6N, play that, then have proper length tours after (at least three tests, and mid-week games against decent competition).

    (rant over!)

  2. I agree on the Argentinians plight and that the calender is the most important thing to sort out. However I like the idea of the south sea islanders and Japanese getting top level rugby on a regular bases. These areas have produced and do produce as much talent as any other in the world but it has nowhere to develop.

    For international Rugby to grow we need other teams competing for the WC, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji could do this if they had funds and players playing at home. Japan is a huge market which must be tapped post WC. This would be a perfect platform.

    As for the Saffers, I believe they are big enough to survive on their own providing that they can join a European competition for half of the year.

    My vision

    South Sea league (NZ, AUS, Jpn, WS, Fiji, Tongo

    Northern European league: English, Welsh, Scottish
    Southern European League: French, Irish, Italian
    South African League: (maybe with Argentina)

    The three above leagues contribute 20 teams for an international comp, South Africa with 6 the others with 7 teams.

    This will never happen. Not in my lifetime anyway. But one can dream.

    1. I don’t see the need or sense in splitting up the European nations the way you have it. Those leagues would have 18 and 20 teams each, given the current clubs. This would mean a 34 and 38 game season respectively (unless you want to go into a alternate year home and away six nations type system) and that quite frankly if you were to then throw in the heineken cup type matches and other cup matches is not possible. The top French teams already play a huge number of games at the moment and your proposal would see an increase in this number which just isn’t doable.

  3. Much as I think he’s strangled English Rugby over the years, when Rugby went professional in ’95, Rob Andrew had an idea, which to my mind hasn’t been topped yet.
    Basically, in the NH, From August to November is the domestic season (Premiership…), inbound international tours in December, January to April is the “provincial” season (H-Cup…), and May is International season (6N), followed by International Tours in June. One month off, and we start again. In the SH, from February to May is the domestic season, inbound international tours in June, July to October is the “provincial” season (Super Rugby), November is International season (RC), followed by International tours in December.
    I quite agree that the Pacific Nations, including Argentina, and hopefully increasingly North America need to have regular top-level international Rugby. In the short term, the international tours should be encouraged to go there. They should also be encouraged to tour in the established nations.
    In the NH, provincial teams should be made up of the best players, as franchises, much like the SH, maybe in both Hemispheres one or two franchises should aim to collect players of a particular nation, i.e, in the Heineken Cup, a franchise of Argentinians and Pacific Nations, as well as a franchise of similar make-up in Super Rugby.
    The IRB and National Unions should set aside funds from established income to sort this out.
    (The 2007 RWC, while a perfectly good success could so easily have been awarded to Japan instead of NZ, which would have been the best possible encouragement, as could RWC 2015…)
    The IRB is desperate to promote the game to 30% of the worlds population (India and China – no rate to 3rd rate nations), even though, I suspect there would be a better success rate in encouraging 2nd rate nations to 1st rate.
    A bit rambling, I know, but the point stands!

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