How I would fix Super Rugby - Green and Gold Rugby
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How I would fix Super Rugby

How I would fix Super Rugby

So, here comes the fun part  – the culmination of my special look at the structure of Super Rugby. The current system is complicated, demanding on players, and an unattractive product. So what is a viable option? Well, a good place to start is looking at the other options that have been proposed. The most notable was this video released in 2014 (when the current restructuring was announced) by FutureOfSuperRugby.com, a group based in New Zealand. This is located in the link below:

 

Now, obviously there are several issues with this video, mostly notably the idea that the Kings have  their ability to win games, and the issues of having the Jaguares travel to Australia for conference matches. However, there is a lot of valid points here. Many of the predictions made around the Sunwolves have turned out to be correct. Additionally, the alternative model proposed would work, given the huge success the three-conference system was for Super Rugby. With that in mind my proposal follows a similar path, but instead of a country-based conference system, is instead focused on the only logical solution: geographical location.

Nicks plan for Super Rugby

African/Americas Conference Australasian Conference Oceania Conference
Bulls Reds Hurricanes
Sharks Brumbies Blues
Cheetahs Waratahs Crusaders
Lions Western Force Highlanders
Stormers Melbourne Rebels Chiefs
Jaguares Sunwolves Pacific Islands Team

Once again, there are three conferences, which makes it nice and easy to understand. The top two teams from each conference go through, and a combined table gives gives us two wildcard sports for the next highest ranked teams. Easy. And that way, you do not have the issues of teams like the Highlanders playing better in the regular season than the Brumbies, yet still having a tougher run to the finals.

Additionally, the other big positive is that by basing the conferences on geographical location, that significantly reduces the impact of travel. The Sunwolves will be one notable benefactor of this, playing in Australia more will significantly reduce their travel hours, which will help them be more competitive. The Jaguares will face the most travel, given the average flight from Buenos Aires to South Africa is 9 hours.

International Triple Header

The Pacific Island teams – Proud and Powerful!

However, there is a brilliant solution to this, mostly around organising the fixtures correctly. The entire African/Americas conference may be seen as being at a disadvantage due to travel, however the solution would be to have the teams go on tours during the season. That would mean, when teams play away from home in other conferences, they would get those games all out of the way at once. For example, the Stormers on a tour would, for instance, play two Kiwi teams, and two Aussie teams and the Sunwolves, then spend the rest of the competition at home/ going to Argentina. Not only that, but the Aussie and Kiwi conferences would do the same tours, meaning they would also travel less, and do all their away games at once. They would level the playing field considerably when it comes to travel.

So, with this system addressing the current issues with competition structure and travel, this has come with three big changes: the removal of the Kings, moving the Sunwolves to the Australian conference, and adding a Pacific Islands team.

The Removal of the Kings:

Yes, I know many in the Republic will shake their heads at this one. But like I said, 2017 is do or die for the Kings. I will happily eat my words if the Kings (and South African rugby in general) play well this year. But really, that is what this comes down to. Many have complained about the decreased quality of Super Rugby, and the Kings continual thrashings last year was a consistent example of that.

In truth, if 2017 sees the Kings struggle again, it will prove to many that South Africa hasn’t got the depth to field six Super Rugby sides. Obviously, cutting the Kings will be seen as huge disservice to the fans and players from Port Elizabeth. But, with all due respect to Kings fans, I wouldn’t see the franchise moving forward with any fanbase if they continually lose again this season.

The Movement of the Sunwolves to the Australian Conference:

Sunwolves winger, Akihito Yamada breaks through the Brumbies' defence.

Despite their equally woeful performance last year, The Sunwolves will stay because of their potential as a product to open up Super Rugby to the Asian Market. However, having them play conferences matches on the other side of the world in Africa is frankly ridiculous. The solution? Play in the conference that is geographically closest to them. Australia is the only solution.

Considering the Sunwolves play home games in either Singapore or Tokyo, having them in the Australian conference will reduce their travel hours, which will improve their ability to be competitive. The team will only grow as a brand when they start winning games: reducing the travel factor is a step in the right direction to not only give the team a more competitive chance, but to also allow the brand to do well as a starting point in the Asian sporting market.

Arguments for a Pacific Islands Team:

Without a doubt one of the best ideas put forward by FutureofSuperRugby.com, a Pacific Islands team is something that is well overdue to happen in Super Rugby. For years, the NZRU and the ARU have pinched talent from the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to prop up their own Super Rugby and national teams. Yet, I find it a testament to their respective national teams that these island nations are still extremely competitive on the international rugby stage. This is talent we should nurture, and grow.

NSW Samoa vs NSW Fiji Pacific Islands Cup Final (3 of 6)

NSW Samoa vs NSW Fiji during the NRC Pacific Islands Round in 2016.

Progress has already been made, with the ARU laying the foundations for a Fijian team joining the NRC next year. The Fijians were so happy, their Prime Minister came Sydney for the occasion. That says a lot about these nations. They LOVE rugby. The crowds in Fiji when the Chiefs played the Crusaders also said a lot: there is a fanbase out there that wants it. Not only that, but playing out of Auckland (the world’s largest Polynesian city) also is a viable option. Giving these nations a Super Rugby side will allow them to improve their playing stocks, improve the ways they play the game (especially their discipline), stop the drain of these players to Europe, and improve the profile of the game even more. What is even clearer is that, given so many Islander players are currently in Super Rugby, a Pacific Islanders team would be competitive from the get go, and give the Kiwi teams a good challenge of their own.

However, there are some negatives with a Pacific Islands team, the first being money. Many in SANZAAR possibly don’t see Pacific Island rugby as much of a money spinner compared to the Sunwolves, and in all fairness, there isn’t much there in terms of strong infrastructure. Additionally, playing out of Auckland may end up having an impact on the Blues. Secondly, another negative could be the potential clash of Tongan, Fijian and Samoan culture. Each country has different values and cultural backgrounds, and the rivalry between them is fierce. (Last year, after the NRC game between the Rams and the Country Eagles, I watched the NSW Fiji vs NSW Samoa match at Concord Oval, as seen above. It was a game so intense, that many fights often broke out.) This makes me wonder whether a team like that could work. The third issue is politics, as many don’t approve of the current military run government in Fiji and their influence in Fijian rugby.

However, in all honesty, I believe a Pacific Islands team is necessary. Pacific rugby is something that should be nurtured and allow to grow, and giving them a Super Rugby side will most certainly do that.

****

Lastly, my final reason why a conference system based on geographical location would work is because it allows for much more flexibility in expanding Super Rugby in the long term. With the Sunwolves, SANZAAR has opened themselves up to the Asian market, and many have talked about the possibility of Super Rugby teams starting up in Singapore, Hong Kong and even mainland China. Additionally, the US and Canada, two of the most improving rugby nations in recent years, have also been touted as “attractive” prospects by SANZAAR.

USA v Uruguay - 2015 Rugby World Cup Qualifying Match

The Americas… an attractive prospect for Super Rugby?

If these are the places where SANZAAR will expand in the future, then to me, a five-conference structure is possible. In addition to the five teamed South Africa, Australia and New Zealand conferences, Super Rugby could also have an Asia-Pacific conference (with the Sunwolves, the Pacific Islands team, and a Singaporean, Hong Kong and Chinese team), and a Americas conference (with the Jaguares, a possible second Argentinean team/or a Uruguayan team, two teams from the US and one from Canada). This is an option that SANZAAR could use ten-to-fifteen years down the track, and is, quite possibly, the end goal as a challenge to European rugby.

****

So, to sum up, Super Rugby must change. The question is, how? While I myself see the validity in expansion, and have developed my own opinions on this, I know that many people have their own thoughts on it. Tell us what you think, get ideas circulating. Whatever SANZAAR decide to do when they meet in February, their decision will impact us as fans and how we watch this great competition.

 

Stock photo of Super Rugby ball

 

  • Rebels3

    Very nice article and makes complete sense.

    The only issue i would have is to stop the Sunwolves playing out of Singapore, their fan base has shown it’s more than viable enough to let them play all their home games at well…. home.

    I would then propose that the new PI team pick up the 3 games that were being played in Singapore as their own home matches. The money on offer from the Singapore gov’t to play there would help pay the obvious financial issues a PI team would have. The remaining 5 home matches (im presuming 8 home games each) could be spread by 3 x Fiji, 1 x Samoa and 1 x Tonga. This would ensure bigger crowds at these games (repeat fans might be an issue with $) and with their lesser resources more time to prepare fields and facilities between games (all which need to be at a professional level).

    Add to this their inclusion would also boost numbers when they visit the likes of the Reds, Blues, Tahs etc with their big PI communities. Perhaps a Tahs game out at Parra Stadium?

  • Crouse Kee

    totally agree, the other benefit of the sun wolves playing in the aus conference is they are then in the same time zone as all but Weston force which would mean sure more games in that 4-7pm window for both aus and japan based fans. surly that would lead to better TV viewership. if nothing else chages we should swap sunwolves and W force so games are played at better times for fans.

    • jamie

      Aren’t the Western Force actually on the same time zone as Japan? We’re 2 or 3 hours ahead of both.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        Until April WA is +8, Japan is +9, Queensland +10 and the other Eastern states are +11. In April the time zones are +8, +9, and +10. We’re only 2 hours ahead of Japan at the moment because of daylight savings which Japan doesn’t have.

    • Raytah

      Yes i think you’ve got the times a touch mixed up but your point is a good one. Both commercially (getting more games on in primetime), and from a player welfare standpoint As much as spending hours on the plane makes if difficult for the force/ sunwolves to compete it is equally the change in timezone that screws with the body clock.

  • Muzz

    Nick I agree with removing a South African team and moving to three conferences. Geographical proximity seems a no-brainer.
    How are you thinking the draw should be done? I’m not able to watch the video at the moment but the answer may be in there.

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      Hi Muzz, the video doesn’t cover the draw unfortunately. In regards to the draw, in the past the SA teams were often at a disadvantage, because they did all their away games at once. This meant they were often on tour for 4-5 weeks in a row playing, for example, three kiwi teams and two Aussie teams. This travel would be quite taxing on those teams by the end of the tour. By comparison, the Aussies and Kiwi teams (due to their location) would often only do one 2-3 week tour to NZ, and usually a separate 2-3 week tour in SA.
      There needs to be a balance in the draw and levels of travel, and I think something like every team doing their away games in other conferences as part of a 4-5 week tour would level the playing field considerably in terms of the draw and travel. That way, after that tour, teams would spend the rest of their seasons either at home or playing away games in their own conference. The other alternative would be two separate tours, but that may lead to even more travel.

      • Muzz

        Yeah that sounds like a fair approach.

        • Lindommer

          The oft-repeated and worn argument our Saffer cousins are hard-done by on the travel score doesn’t stand up. Simplistically, they travel east to play Australian and New Zealand sides while the ANZAC teams travel west to play the SAf teams: same distance. But, most Australasian sides make TWO trips to the other side of the Tasman to meet their commitments, the Saffers don’t on their on their Australasian travels.

          I did a match-by-match distance calculator for three teams (Stormers, Force and Clan) racking up km for their 2014 commitments. Surprisingly, the Stormers travelled less km than their ANZAC cousins. Read here: http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/community/threads/s18-on-its-way.13275/page-29 I suspect the relative distances travelled by the SAF, Oz and NZ teams in 2016 remained about the same; that can’t be said about the newbies, the Sunwolves and Jaguares, their distances travelled must’ve been horrendous.

      • Kokonutcreme

        Enjoyed reading your article Nick. On one hand teams playing their intra-conference games in one hit over 4-5 weeks on the road sounds like a good solution to combat the inequities of the travel demands, however it also creates a hole for local fans and broadcasters, particularly for Australia who need more local content to compete against their rival codes.

        It would be far easier to eliminate the travel factor altogether during the regular season and have teams play each other within their own conference and only outside their conference in the finals. However there isn’t the critical mass of teams in each conference under the current system to sustain a full season, so either each participating country promotes their domestic competitions as full-time professional competitions to replace the current Super rugby teams or SANZAAR continue to try and fit the square peg into an oval hole that has become Super rugby.

  • MST

    There is a key linkage between financial status of a team and performance that is being conveniently ignored. Logic suggest that not having the money to buy the best players would have a bearing on performance. That being said at times even with the best players team perform poorly so the on field performance criteria really is a poor measure

    The reality is it comes back to financial issue. In SA right now you are splitting hairs between if the Kings or Stomers should go noting they are both struggling financially. The ARU and SARU are both in similar situations and constrained financially. But if you apply the financial / performance criteria fairly and factor in geography and time zones there is a fair argument to say the Force could count in the SA pool and could be cut and add another Kiwi team.

    The fantasy about pacific island team fall flat at the first hurdle when it come to who pays for it, let alone when you start to consider the logistics like travel. World Rugby fund the Fijian NRC team and the NZRU has paid for SR games to be played in the pacific islands.

    The key candidate for an expansion team are Canada; but this just adds to the travel and time zone headaches.

    One key issue is the home derbies which has been the most damaging part to SA teams; yet what Australian teams are so dependant on. So the composition; how many teams is one issue, and the draw is another separate issue.

    From the other side of the fence, moving away from home derbies, which would change the format would be supported by SA and NZ, most likely would improve things for SA and NZ teams and have little impact on the Sunwolves and Jaguares. Only Australia would suffer with this model as financially at least two teams would most likely not survive. When you look at why the fact that SA and NZ don’t want derbies it comes back to being underpinned by strong domestic competitions that offset the SR cost factor and where the support base is drawn from.

    We can bang on naively about formats. the draw and how even and fair they are but the reality is the financial implications are a key influencing factor on the decisions about the format and draw.

    You need not look further than the Brumbies for a prime example. You can fly to Wellington directly to Canberra in 3 hours. But under the SR rules, the Brumbies must travel 9 hours via Sydney. Why? Commercial / financial reasons being a deal with Qantas.

    Simply imaging SR was like the NFL and each team has its own charter aircraft for the travel would turn this argument on its head.

    This is all about the financial and commercial realities and it is arguable that in helping Australia with derbies it has also created the key reasons and why the draw is the way it is and the down stream effects.

    The draw does need reconsideration but IMHO before that the competition need to work on financially strengthening each unions own patch.

    • dru

      [Nice work Nick] Agree MST. Politics comes into play as well. SARU still believe they have the might to push around SAANZAR to their bidding. They are very unlikely to accept a situation where they don’t have two guaranteed home finals. Which is sort of what led to the convoluted four conference thing in the first place. Mind you the dog’s breakfast they have at the moment is not appreciated by Saffer fans, so some kind of change will be pushed.

      Secondly, SARU are pushed around by the RSA Ministry of Sport who want a franchise in EP/Port Elizabeth – the supposed “heart” of black rugby in SA. I would expect to see the Cheetahs folded (possible re-merge with Lions to re-create the Cats) before we see the Kings dropped.

      In Aus we shouldn’t presume that the Force are automatic for the drop if there is a reduction in numbers. On commercials and geographic location I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Brumbies mixed into that discussion. And the shenanigans of recent times will not help if this matter does come to pass (not that the Force are squeaky clean).

      It is hard to unscramble the omelette at this stage.

      • jamie

        Move the Brumbies to Melbourne and kill the Rebels. I’m down.

  • paul

    This all comes down to money, but the catch 22 is that with only 5 teams in the Australian market, the code simply cannot gain market traction and grow.

    Which keeps the code forever reliant on some overseas entity funding the game in Aus, and hows that working out.?

    So super rugby is ultimately slowly killing the game here. Adjusting the conference system is like moving the deck chairs round.

    • Twoilms

      The game was stronger when we only had 3.

      • paul

        Agreed, But the market was also different then as well, and what does stronger mean. just more wins for the Wallabies.

        we’ve averaged 3rd world ranking for the last 20 years and look where the game is at here.

        My point is the AFL has 18, NRL 16, A/League 10 and both soccer and league plan to add more teams. How can rugby compete with just 5 teams.

        And how can you have a situation where VIC/WA have equal representation with Qld/NSW on the domestic front, it does not make sense

  • Bertram Lai

    Great analysis and discussion and agree with your conclusion. However, the introduction of national (and even supra-national) teams into a provincial competition did raise an interesting associated question for me. At which ranking do the national teams become competitive with the provincial teams? How would for example 10/11-ranked Fiji/Japan fare against a top provincial or club side such as the Hurricanes and Highlanders (or Saracens and Toulon)? I did a quick search but couldn’t find much history of head-to-heads unsurprisingly.

    • Andrew Luscombe

      I suspect that the Jaguares compared to the Pumas last year gives an indication. Teams that have played together regularly for a few years with a winning record are really good. I reckon the Lions could beat SA at the moment, and a South Pacifc Super Rugby team doing well would probably be better than Fiji or Samoa.

      I’d rank the Hurricanes at the end of last year’s SR season about 5th in the world including all national teams. Saracens and Lions similarly. Not that I really know what I’m talking about – just the feeling I get.

  • It won’t be Fiji anytime soon after they just issued a press release stating that the campaign for a Fiji based side has only ben run in the press, mostly from Ben Ryan, and they haven’t heard anything official.

  • chibimatty

    I wonder if it would be worth playing some Sunwolves games around Japan? Kyushu, Kobe and Hanazono Osaka could benefit from a visit. I don’t understand the Singapore idea, unless it’s for South African travel distances? I would have thought Hong Kong would get games ahead of Singapore.

    I wonder if it’s worth playing Pacific Islander games in Hawaii? It could be used to break up the flights across the Pacific to Argentina. Sunwolves vs the Pacific Islanders in Hawaii would make for an interesting fixture.

    If the Asia-Pacific Dragons are included as a the team, then does that open up Hong Kong as a home venue for the Islanders?

  • jamie

    When we start adding in sides from the US and Canada, we have to destroy Super Rugby. Split it, down the middle or something. To me, it’s obscene to have a league that travels the entire world. Especially when there’s such a dominant international arena.

  • Andrew Luscombe

    I would switch the Pro12 to a summer season (for them), ditch the Italian teams, and have Argentinian and SA teams play in an expanded Pro12 with 17 teams – maybe adding a second Argentinian team soon after to make a Pro18. Then Aus/NZ and Japan can have an 11 team Eastern league of their own – maybe add another NZ or pacific team to make it 12.

    The Pro18 teams would leave the European Champions and Challenge Cups and join a Global Cup involving Eastern league teams. This would be a shortish comp structured like the world cup with smallish groups followed by a 16 team knockout finals. This final would not be at the end of the year so that space is left for the Eastern league and Pro18 finals.

    This would solve the timezone issues. Most games would be at viewable times and jetlag problems mostly eliminated.

    I would try to play doible round robin for the Eastern league to enable the teams to generate enough money to compete with European teams for players. Also a 22 week season for Pro18 for similar reasons. This would undermine NPC, NRC, and Curry cups commercially, but they can continue as lesser leagues. A champions cup for them might be beneficial too.

    This is unlikely to happen in the short term, but from many points of view it makes sense.

    • adastra32

      It’s highly unlikely to happen, Andrew – the money does not reside in the Pro12 and expanding it with Argentina/SA will not create the rabbit in the hat that you seek.

      • Andrew Luscombe

        So we agree it’s unlikely to happen.

        Having teams playing at a time of day when their fans can watch is one “pot of gold”. Having a longer season is another. I don’t expect the Pro12 teams to bring a large amount of money, just good competition at appropriate times of day. Pro12 player budgets are higher than SR by the way – they would be competitive as the Eropean Cup results this year show.

        Another advantage would be that the nations involved would form a significant block within World Rugby which would likely result in better global coordination of rugby.

  • Charcoal

    I’m a simple minded person and my motto is Keep It Simple Stupid. I’m totally opposed to the continual expansion of Super Rugby to take over the world. It’s obvious that it hasn’t helped Australian Rugby, so why should we continue to support it? It’s not Australia’s responsibility, nor NZ’s or SA’s for that matter, to expand a rugby competition into other global regions. That responsibility rests with World Rugby to set up local regional competitions. What is the point of having teams from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres playing in a single competition when their respective seasons are out of kilter?

    The expansionists have this dewy eyed obsession with continuing with expanding into new markets without any thought of how it dilutes the relevance of a local domestic competition. Australian Rugby faces a far more competitive environment than NZ or SA and that’s where the focus should be on improving Rugby’s relevance in the domestic market.

    That means having a competition in meaningful time zones and having games played in SA in the early hours of the morning Australian time just doesn’t cut it. That just doesn’t happen with AFL, NRL or A-League.

    In my view, we should piss off SA and just have an Aust/NZ conference where the time zones are compatible. There could be 5 or 6 teams per country playing a home and away format. SIMPLE!

  • Jacq Krige

    Bring back the Super 12 – Best system ever.

  • Twoilms

    It won’t happen precisely because it makes sense.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    I like what you’re saying Nick, however I do see the continuation of a current problem, and that is that the games outside of the conferences become irrelevant to anyone not in that conference. I think that’s a big issue as the advertising dollar is what allows this competition to run. I think needs to be addressed as much as the schedule, fan base, travel and other aspects. I like the idea of a Pacific team but I think there are a lot of issues to sort through about this first and getting the three or four unions to come together without the sort of quota system that is killing the Saffa’s will be a hard sell.

    I still like the idea of a 2 tiered system with an annual promotion/relegation series prior to the championship finals. I think having the teams play each other in a home and away competition drives a lot more public support and the promotion/relegation is also a crowd pleaser. Not sure how the split should go and I do acknowledge it will be harder to get into a tier 1 than fall out and also the travel will be an issue, however at least a home and awn schedule means the travel is the same for everyone.

    It’s a difficult issue for SANZAR and I don’t think there is an easy answer. TBH just really looking forward to the rugby starting again soon.

  • A Nonymous

    I have followed Super Rugby since 1993.

    Looking ahead, I will not watch any game involving Fiji or Fiji composite players. Whether on TV or at a stadium.

  • Joe King

    Hi Nick, you may be interested, I wrote an article on The Roar a few weeks ago suggesting a similar 3×6 team conference structure also based on geography.

    http://www.theroar.com.au/2017/01/16/simpler-structure-super-rugby/

    Working Class Rugger then offered a slightly different (but thought-provoking) alternative to how the format could work in the comments section of my article.

    Cheers.

  • Aaron Rudolph

    Just wondering how you would work the fixture list here. If everyone played everyone in their own conference twice, that’s 10 games each, leaving 6 to face other conferences. Would these 6 be pre-determined and changed on rotation each year? Also this could mean teams from NZ/AU could only go to SA for 1 game (e.g a NZ team faces 2 away games in AU and only 1 in SA). And this means you miss out on playing 6 teams each year (but it does mean you don’t miss out on a whole country).

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@Nick_Wasiliev

Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician and second-rower trying to kick start a writing career in an increasingly bonkers world...

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