The future of Super Rugby: the Pacific Model - Green and Gold Rugby

The future of Super Rugby: the Pacific Model

The future of Super Rugby: the Pacific Model

It’s been a big few weeks in Super Rugby, and though it’s a while away 2020 can’t come fast enough.

Like Americans in the Roosevelt era, Aussie rugby fans are clamouring for a New Deal to rescue us from our current quagmire. Super Rugby in many ways is a dead duck, with crowds and ratings dropping every week.

Jamie Miller summed it up well last week, and I don’t want to rake over those coals again. However on Saturday night, after yet another robust exchange of views on social media, I was asked what I thought the best path was in 2020 and beyond. So here I am.

Paul Cully kicked off the debate on Saturday with his piece in the Fairfax media, advocating for RA to go it alone in 2020 with a local competition in place of Super Rugby. This was reinforced by many who attended the Manly v. Warringah Shute Shield match, with a crowd of roughly 7000 watching a fiercely fought local derby.

Is the future local? Can Super Rugby exist after 2019? How do we keep our head above water?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but I am going to argue today that a local competition won’t be enough in 2020, and the future lies in the Pacific region. Bear with me, let’s step through the logic and I’ll see you in the comments section to fight it out.

Is going local the answer?

Is going local the answer?

A local competition probably won’t work

I’m not against the concept of a local competition. I gaze longingly at the NRL and AFL on Grand Final day, with administrators safe in the knowledge that whatever happens that afternoon there will be one very, very happy set of fans that evening when the whistle blows. We don’t have that luxury.

We can have years when none of our teams lofts a trophy. Where every single fan base leaves the season with a bitter taste in their mouths. When we have a few of those years back-to-back (as we have now), it can lead to real issues.

There are a few ways a local competition could work – either an expanded NRC season, a Club Championship type model or a mix of the two (non-Brisbane and Sydney areas represented by NRC clubs, with existing clubs representing both major capitals). Both would result in closely fought battles with guaranteed winners.

Sadly I can’t see a way for the financials to add up.

Like every Australian sport, TV revenue is king. While Super Rugby has its issues, one of its strengths is its ability to be sold as a TV product in key overseas markets. The current TV deal is divided into 11 separate agreements between SANZAAR and foreign networks, in areas like the Americas, UK, France, Italy, Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Japan.

That puts millions into our coffers before we even start talking to local networks. And it’s those millions we rely on to keep our top-tier talent from booking a one-way ticket to Europe. Yes Super Rugby is a loss-making venture, but its scale allows us to pay sizeable salaries to our players.

Could a local comp be enough for Samu?

Could a local comp be enough for Samu?

While cutting ties with SANZAAR and going it alone may seem appealing, it’s these TV dollars that we would forego by doing so.

Are we selling our local comp into Europe? Japan? The USA? Given the timezones and quality of rugby on display, I’d be amazed if they gave us a second glance.

In all likelihood we’re left with what we can negotiate with local networks and Fox Sports. And that won’t be nothing – it would allow us to sustain a viable local competition. We’d save money on international travel, which we could reinvest in the domestic game.

I’m no economist, but I just can’t see the numbers adding up.

The competition could work in the same way the A-League works – a nice competition for local followers, but it’s essentially a feeder league for the European game. The salary discrepancies would be too big for any good player to ignore, and we’d see most of our top players disappear.

Without players like Pocock, Genia, Folau and Kerevi, we’d be behind the eight-ball before we even started. We’d revert to the ‘rusted on’ fans, and while that has its benefits it just can’t be a sustainable long-term option in my opinion.

And I think there’s a more appealing alternative…

The Pacific Championships

This, to me, is our best case scenario. It may be unachievable for a litany of reasons, but let’s put those aside for just a few minutes.

One of Rugby’s key points of difference is its international appeal. The NRL and AFL aren’t local competitions by choice. While it’s frustrating the Kiwis are currently THAT much better than us, to turn away from them because of it would be madness.

My proposed competition is a 12 team competition, containing four Australian teams, five Kiwi teams, the Sunwolves, Jaguars and a Pacific Island team. Really it’s just Super Rugby without the Saffers.

The Sunwolves can contribute both on and off the field

The Sunwolves can contribute both on and off the field

This competition gives us plenty of high-quality rugby in our timezone. It allows us to tap into lucrative TV markets in Asia and the Americas (while the involvement of NZ would help us to attract eyeballs in Europe and Africa). It harnesses our local NZ and PI expat communities – a valuable source of interest that may be lost with a local model. And it gives us a greater share of teams, meaning a better chance of victory.

What about the Force? I’m honestly not sure. I just don’t think we have the depth for five teams in any international competition. What the Force is doing at the moment is fantastic, though. I’m open to consideration.

This idea isn’t perfect. We’d still be facing years where we don’t win a trophy. We’d still have issues with crowds and TV ratings – though I think success would solve both of these. And that’s before you even discuss whether this thing is even possible.

But the reality is that there are no perfect ideas here. We’re looking for the least worst option, and I think this might just be that.

There is still scope to look at a local competition behind this model – it may be time for a hard chat about the NRC. As much as I love what it stands for and how it may help us, it certainly hasn’t caught the imagination of the wider community.

So there it is. I’ve put my neck out and had a crack. It’s far from perfect, and I skate over a lot of issues that require much more detail to fully grasp. Unfortunately I haven’t got the time to go ‘full Miller’ and lay out 7,000 words, so this will have to do.

The comments section awaits. What do you think? Am I on the right track?

  • Tah Tragic

    While a Pacific Championship is attractive from an Australian perspective I think the Kiwis would see it as the worst option. It would only get up if SA pulled out of Super Rugby and NZ had no other choice.

    • Hugh Cavill

      Agreed – which is one of the ‘litany of issues’ I referred to. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but you wouldn’t say it was likely either.

  • onlinesideline

    But will crowds all of sudden come back to Super because the Saffas have gone ?
    Nope (definitely agree they need the axe but thats just 1 issue)
    You say one aussie team is not lifting a trophy like NRL and AFL every year but how is that issue addressed in your new comp full of 5 kiwi teams ? We will still rarely lift a trophy.

    You sound like many who just CANT accept the issues of lost $ and lost players. Im not going to go over the whole tribalism issue again as I have said it a gazillion times but the international aspect of our game should be exploited through national sides v national sides and not provincial. Empty stadiums / crowd experiences of these super rugby provincial matches have killed rugby. They dont have the intmacy or tribalism of say a NRL match like Cronulla v Manly at a smaller ground, which to my mind is what we need and they dont have the allure of a test match either. They are in between and therefore fail. Super has been built around this and its a fail for 2018 and onwards. We have all the top players and loads of cash and its failed. Your solution is much the same. It will also fail.

    Not only has state v state or province v province Super rugby failed, its also killed test rugby too. Why because I know no longer enjoy that anticipation come test time of “shit, wonder how good these guys are, wonder how fast these backs are, wonder if we can get up on these guys, who the fuck is that guy ? etc ” We already see everyones cards in Super. Its just too much. Thats the problem. We have all loved certain Super rugby matches/duels at times over the years, in finals for example but they ahve been too few and far between. As a 3-4 month comp other factors were ignored. I persoanlly think the game has to come down a notch at least and be happy with crowds of 8000 but in satdiums that dont require 3 hours travel there and back. People are craving smaller more emotional experieces like the old days.

    Screw the players fleeing and screw the bucks. Is present day Super or your new comp idea worth keeping or doing so we can sell empty stadiums around the world on TV and have no-one interested in OZ. Its insane.

    We need a nationwide only comp and go it alone compeletely. We need new pathways and a full frontal attack CULTURALLY on NRL by mirroring what the NRL comp is, in alot of ways. Its our place in the sporting pysche of Australian kids that has to change. We need to rid the game of its elistist culture and make everyone and I mean everyone feel this is their rugby home no matter what part of socity you coem from. Kurtley Beales scholarship to joeys and others to Scots is precisley the proble, The change has to happen in the way the game is run, how schools play each other. RA needs to demand changes from schools.

    • Hugh Cavill

      You’ve identified plenty of issues with my proposed structure – fair enough. I didn’t say it was perfect.

      But the one you proposed is full of holes. It’s all well and good to capitalise random words, but let’s look at what you have said:

      – 12-15 local teams
      – Demand change from schools

      And that’s it. You say we will create a ‘new generation of stars’ but I have no idea how. As I said, the issue is money. How can we compete against the NRL when what we would offer prospective youngsters is half the $$$ they can get in other codes, or overseas?

      Money talks. As the last five years have shown, love of the game or the Wallaby jersey just isn’t enough to keep talented players on our shores when the overseas millionaires come knocking.

      You’re essentially creating a comp that’s a pale imitation of our competitors – smaller crowds and poorer players (both in skills and finances), and I just can’t see how that solves any of our problems.

      • Ed

        Agree Hugh.

        If we went alone, it could mirror the 1970s/1980s where quite a few of our top rugby players would leave in their prime to League as it was professional. This time it would be to either League or more likely Europe/Japan.

        When SR started, the AU/NZ players that went to play in Europe were those at the end of their careers. Now, many up sticks when they have many years of their career left for money/experiences/family etc.

        Do we have enough quality coaches for a local comp? We have not invested in that area either. Look at the Tahs – their top two coaches are Kiwis. Gibson maybe is not as bad as a coach as many thought he was. He has looked after the defence this year and it has performed better than last year with the Wallabies defensive coach.

        FYI – the current TV deal finishes at the end of the 2020 season.

      • onlinesideline

        I thought I mentioned a number of reasons. Like you said, we will be able to negotiate a smaller deal with FTA, that yes will be very small compared to todays deal but we have to start small and build a properly formatted comp that people enjoy going to. ONCE that occurs regularly throughout the whole season then at least we can boast a comp that taps into the whole country and is enjoyed by people who want to watch EVEN if its the A- league standards wise. At least the A league is enjoyed by lots of people. A comp can’t survive without spectators. Worry about establishing a healthy comp first before worrying about standards. We cant have it both ways. We have to take some pain somehwere.

        • Hugh Cavill

          Fair enough, but I think you overstate the crowd issues a little. Let’s take this weekend – we had the Manly vs Warringah game in Sydney Club Rugby. Grassroots at its best, with a devoted following on either side, and I’d argue the biggest crowd we’ll see in a club game in Australia this year. That crowd? 7000. The very best club rugby can do, and it’s still roughly half the average crowd for the Tahs.

        • onlinesideline

          My answer to that is – I would much much much prefer to see a crowd of 7000 in a smaller ground ie manly v warringhah style but that scenario repeated all over the country at the same time in ALL of the other matches being played simultaneously. THATS THE POINT – thats what I would love to see in the first and every year actually. And every week. The problem with Super is that they remind of startups. Build the fancy website and they will come. Well they dont come. The super rugby expansion to the provincial / international level was a dream that was never sustainable in THIS country. Its need to scale RIGHT back. If there is no smell of burgers, onions, and beer it will never work in this country.

        • Braveheart81

          What makes you think that would be repeated around the country? We currently have club rugby around the country that gets crowds nowhere near that. It doesn’t work to take the single best example of a club rugby fixture we have and say that it can be repeated around the country. That simply doesn’t happen.

          I don’t know how you can say that the A League is enjoyed by a lot of people. Outside of two derby fixtures (Melbourne and Sydney) crowds are largely terrible and the TV audiences are worse than Super Rugby.

        • onlinesideline

          thats today – Im talking about one new nationwide comp that pools all super rugby and NRC players together as the premier comp and only comp over and above club rugby. The truth is I actually would like to see club rugby amalgamated into same comp as well.THEN I WOULD BE EXCITED. Thats a project I would put my name to and work on for years. For me club and NRC and super and then tests is ridiculous.

  • HomerJ

    Hugh, would love to see a comp like that however, there is no financial sense in it as the PI would not generate any income for the broadcaster unless they can sell it overseas. Also NZ insists on playing the saffers because they don’t see us as good enough opponents.
    Money needs to go into the clubs with a semi-pro competition to stop the flood of young talent into league (and AFL), the higher standard would remove the need for the NRC (although i do like it) and generate a better platform for the next level.
    However, without international money the foxtel commitments here will never cover enough for any financial expansion and NZ will not bite the hand that feeds it for our sake.
    RA needs to find alternate funding sources, the fact that they have zero assets (real estate etc) to support them into the future is staggering. Every AFL club learnt that lessons generations ago.
    Can Ziggy put the $100m into a savings account and let RA take the interest for a while????

    • Hugh Cavill

      Agree that ‘would the Kiwis do it?’ is the lingering issue that could kill the whole concept. There is a chance that SA may choose to merge into Europe though, which would leave us as the last dance partner left, colloquially speaking. And while the PI doesn’t generate income, I was convinced by the Drua that it should happen. There is too much talent and love for the game there for us to ignore.

  • Braveheart81

    One of the twitter comments (potentially Hoiles) suggesting that if you went with a national comp you have to go with the club teams that have the tribal backing. Open it up to tenders and pick the best ones. You’d need significant buy-in from the Sydney and Brisbane club competitions because you would effectively be destroying them by taking out their best few teams.

    I do think the most likely way forward is this sort of model. Super Rugby is dying a death and not just in Australia. I think there will be a natural re-organisation and New Zealand will really have no option than to stick with us moving forward.

    Certainly any new domestic competition would need substantial private equity involvement to finance it. You would have to expect significant losses for a substantial period of time (like the A League for example) before it reached critical mass.

  • Nutta

    Hugh I largely agree with you.
    4 Aussie sides, 5 Kiwi sides, Pingers and a Polynesian Warriors side based out of Singapore. The 12th team would be an annual wildcard side open to whomever was good enough and wanted to pony-up on our terms – Forcies, Drua, 6th Kiwi’s, Jags or even a European/Baa-Baa’s.
    Base it off a 2 conferences approach (Oz plus 1 off-shore and the Wildcard and the other is NZ plus one off-shore) and the top 2 from each Conference plus the highest finisher goes into the finals.
    It should be played from March to late May and lead into the June Tests. After June Tests go back to local NRC/NPC. That gives pathways, local interest and some mass to make it attractive to TV/Marketers and keep it sustainable

  • Kevino

    My choice would be for a 14 team comp and play home and away.

    5 Aussie
    7 Kiwi (Would add a Taranaki/Manawatu-Wanganui side plus either Hawke’s Bay or Southland)
    2 PI

    While I don’t mind watching the Jaguar’s, I don’t think South America should have even been included in Super Rugby. And as for the Sunwolves, the Japanese Rugby union is still dictated to by the club comp. They are not fielding the best side possible of local talent and don’t add anything to the quality of the comp.

  • Kiap

    Glad to see you’ve finally recognised the Soup has gone cold, Hugh. It’s taken a while to move from devoted to reluctant, so well done to you for having a crack

    Also the still scope to look at a local competition behind this bit is spot on.

    It’s actually more important than your main model because your point that it’s just Super Rugby without the Saffers is right and not in a good way.

    Straight away you’ve lost 40% of the revenue and you’re still forced to run a full season comp to chase the cash from from the remnants without any talent leveling mechanism. And nary a mention of improving the feed-in tier for the Australian teams.

    No, it’s far better to split away the local derbies from Super and condense it down to a shorter, sharper cross-border Champions Cup – pools and finals, 9 weeks max.

    The Saffers can then even stay in and the inevitable boredom from NZ hegemony doesn’t set over 18-22 rounds.

    Plus, for the actual regular season we get to promote our Oz -controlled competition as the top ticket, spiced it up with PI teams like Fiji and even perhaps a HK-bankrolled team.

    • Hugh Cavill

      I think I understand you here. What’s the local comp then? Just our Super teams with a few PI sides?

      I don’t mind the Champions Cup format, and I’ve seen a few proposals of that nature. I do wonder if you risk adding another rung to an already confusing season structure, where we have 4-5 different tiers and comps going on at any one time.

      • Kiap

        Same amount of tiers as now.

        Soup > Cup … and NRC-turbo

        We need to give dedicated air (away from the shadow of Supe) to Aus teams to get increased backing – which includes commercial sponsors, private backing, and even support at attendance and viewing level.

        Promotion is required for it to be a top ticket rugby product within it’s own window. It’s what NRC lacks.

        To kick off for me: 4+1 Aus teams (includes the Force) as the base and I’d want another 3. Yes, possibly PI teams. Also possibly Asian, e.g. a HK-bankrolled side

        A point I try to press often is that pro teams aren’t rep teams. It sounds obvious and even fatuous but this is not always factored in.

        If you’ve got the dollar backing and an audience, then players follow. That’s how the Asia-Pacific Dragons work.

        Indeed, it’s how rugby in England and France works.

  • Hoss

    I am always reminded of advice my long departed Pop told me.

    ‘son, when your standing on the tee, on a par 5, there’s no good worrying about the green just yet’

    I would simply start where you want to finish.

    What is it we want success for the code in this wide brown land to look like and then build backwards from there.

    Start at the end, say these are the non-negotiable’s, heres what we want to finish with and work backwards from there.

    Then you will have processes, systems, plans, budgets in place to support the declared outcomes – not trying to modify process,systems, plans and budgets that were never designed for the (stated) outcomes.

    For a modest fee i am available.

    • Habitual offender

      Interesting Hoss, a bit like long distance bino’s, just look from the other end.
      The only flaw in your thinking is the last section of the conceptual plan.
      Instead, I propose I’ll take the fee, and delegate the work to you.

      • Hoss

        Love your work Comrade Mao.

  • BigNickHartman

    I think a huge assumption that goes missing is that we can’t change the national team-aligned franchises idea. Why can’t we spread the nationalities around, so we can Folau playing in Auckland or Ben Smith playing for the Reds? I think it’d generate real excitement in having a foreign international in your team.

    Ok, if this was done total free market style 90% of team players would be Kiwis. But you can easily fix this by putting in a domestic quota – e.g. 11/15 of the starting side must be Australian.

    This way, depth becomes less of an issue or goes away entirely. It would make the competition fairer, make Australian based teams more competitive, and generally up the TV $$.

    World Rugby forcing the Northern Hemisphere to distribute money back down (via transfers or whatever) would be ideal, but if that doesn’t happen this route is only option Australian rugby has

    • Hugh Cavill

      This is a really good point, and something we should consider now.

      • Phil Kcraig

        The whole problem with current Soup is lack of uncertainty of outcome so if you include 5 NZ sides and 4 Oz sides really what are you changing – I would say not much. Yes the obvious answer would be an open borders policy where anyone playing for any team in the Pacific Comp is eligible for their national team. It would also require a salary cap to obviously stop richer countries/ teams hoarding all the talent.

        Also the other consideration if we have big rich billionaire prepared to make a major investment in rugby in Asia Pacific and hence to exclude the Force (which any such investment would be conditional on their inclusion) would be commercial suicide. Again if we have an open borders policy then there is no reason the Force could not also be included. But just excluding the Saffa’s and adding a PI team is not the solution and would not stop the rapid rate of decline. The lack of interest is not just because of Saffa’s involved in the Soup!

        • Hugh Cavill

          Fair point on the Force. I’d argue that the Saffers are a big part of the problem. They provide four teams that garner very little local interest, we don’t watch their games, and they give the competition a distance and complexity that the wider public find very hard to grasp. Obviously there are plenty of other issues with the comp, though.

        • Andrew Luscombe

          The SA teams play in the timezone that brings in the most money.

        • Hugh Cavill

          True. It’s a balancing act – we need to keep some cash but at the end of the day it’s not all about the money. Otherwise we’d expand in 2020 to bring in the USA.

        • Andrew Luscombe

          Yep. But about the US, if their MLR is doing okay in 2020, in fact if it even still exists, expansion to that market would likely antagonise US rugby fans and administration, turn away the market and lose money.

          There is no London SR team for similar reasons. Otherwise London would be the best place to put a team. It would also draw additional fans for away games too with all the expats in SR countries.

        • Gregory Parkes-Skell

          Part of the conditions to join MLR is that all ownership groups have to provide proof of their ability to cover costs of operations for 5 seasons. And considering that they are currently in the process of detailing the teams that will join the league over the next four years I’m willing ti be that it will still be here in 2020.

    • Alex Galvin

      I have long thought this is essential for super rugby. Create a salary cap to make all the teams more even and not have the usual split of the same teams always finishing in the top/bottom half of the comp. It would be awesome to see players like SBW and Folau in the same team. Of course there would have to be significant safeguards or compensation in place that doesn’t punish teams like the Crusaders who produce fantastic players getting poached by newer clubs like the Rebels. Additionally you should remain eligible to represent your country if you are still playing Super Rugby. I don’t see a problem with picking a Wallaby if he plays with the Canes or Sharks

    • Gun

      Like the NHL which is predominantly Canadian players but taps into the huge US market. Playing for a US franchise doesn’t exclude you from the national team as it shouldn’t with this kind of comp. The comp itself is larger part of the problem. No doubt NZ doesn’t want this model but it has to be the way ahead.

    • Tim Blight

      I agree with this. Limiting our teams to only Aus players and a few marquee hasn’t improved anything. Bring in some kiwi players and let our guys learn from them. The usual concern with this is that we won’t develop our own players but with NRC in place it’s less of a risk. Upping the competition for spots should be seen as a good thing.

    • Andrew Luscombe

      Agree that league-wide equalisation is key. Every other sport apart from soccer has things such as salary caps and drafts that apply across the whole of each league to equalise teams. Soccer has free player movement, transfer fees, promotion/relegation, and it’s a low scoring game so that even a $10 million team can reasonably often beat a $100 million team.

      Super Rugby has nothing. It was initially set up in a reasonably balanced way and did well for a while because of it, but it needs rebalancing.

      If a competition is not competitive, it’s not quality entertainment regardless of how fast the players are, or how well they tackle, kick etc. Few rivalries can build or maintain themselves without close hard fought matches.

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    The cost of running the current Superugby competition is too high and the broadcasting revenue does not even cover the cost. Most of the revenue comes from PayTV from a 3rd work country that is in decline – so I understand your focus to move away from South Africa, However your competition sounds just like a rehash of Superugby without South Africa and will still suffer from the same tiny viewer market in a time zone that is not accessible or interested to the rest of the World. Who will pay for this?
    My proposal is to learn from what worked in other sports like cricket. The IPL/BBL is a short competition with sides re-enforced with marque players that is designed to entertain in line with the short attention span of fans, viewers and the public. It is family entertainment that the purists hate (but also watch). As the focus is entertainment any side can win on the day. It is a concept you can take to the NH and Asia that can connect to local areas. The winners of the regional competitions can qualify for a set of knock-out finals to determine the overall champ. It is about making money so get the billionaires on board. Spice of the game and entertainment.
    Leave the Test rugby and RWC for the purist as the general public does not like to watch them – just as test cricket.

    • TouchFinderGeneral

      Is it likely that ratings are down for test rugby because the Wallabies aren’t winning frequently enough? Does anyone have to hand the national viewing figures for the 1999 RWC, and 2001 Lions?

      T20 ‘works ‘ (Never watch it meself) in countries that already have a strong interest in cricket, it’s not easy to see a rugby version, whatever it might look like, generating sustainable interest in Asia. The NH already has various domestic comps, including a ‘European’, super rugby type thing, which have been (arguably) successful, in large part due to a pre-existing strong club culture.

      Given the, er, patchy form of Aust sides over the last inter-glacial, our best bet for generating international viewing interest, is to make sure people can see the Kiwi’s demonstrating their chops. That said it is hard to imagine why the NZRU would be interested in a mixed nationality arrangement – the current system is doing them no harm at all.

      Hard to know if there is a practical answer. Anyway, when we lift the Bled this year nobody will remember this conversation.

      • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

        The most popular rugby 7s tournament is in Asia (Hong Kong). It sold out weeks before the tournament every single year generating a sustainable interest.
        The lack of interest in Superugby is not confined to Australia. It is losing interest in both South Africa and New Zealand as it became too predictable. Kiwi demonstrating their “chops” are already boring – I do not even tape the games anymore!
        The only cup the Wallabies will lift this year, I am afraid will be a coffee cup after a night our drinking to forget.

        • TouchFinderGeneral

          True – but I wonder how many of the spectators are either corporate or ex-pat from Aust/Eng/SA/NZ etc?

          You raise a good point – continually one-sided contests lose appeal for many (Though I’d be willing to wager better than evens that the 2018 Super final will get decent ratings in NZ, if nowhere else). Multinational teams in the NH comps do have periods of dominance, but they rarely extend over geological time frames in the way NZ teams have dominated Super for so long. Whether or not something like that could work w.r.t SA/Australasia/Pacific I’ve no idea. One problem is the travel involved, Limerick to Rome for Munster is less of a stretch than Otago -> HK, for example.

          Well I’m not going to put the mortgage anywhere near Bled Glory but sometimes, hope is all we have ((C) Team America).

  • Cole

    Honolulu, Fiji, sunwolves, 5 kiwi, 5 Aus, 2 Argies.

  • dsb

    If we go for a national comp and I think we should then the Force/WA should be in for a start. One of the PI sides could also be a western Sydney side. Players from other Sydney clubs could make up the State country sides for Q and NSW. I think we should keep the sun wolves in for television coverage and maybe a Chinese side because there are a lot of Chinese Australians, Hong Kong is keen and the Chinese market is massive. If the AFL can Play a game in Shanghai so could we. Just need a 1/4 percent of a billion population to make it a success! We could do a championship derby round with the Kiwis and say our top three or four? Good to see the ideas coming up and we could end up with real change. The league drew a 10,000 crowd in Tamworth so not bad for a country ground.

  • Alister Smith

    Great article Hugh and I think your assumptions are realistic. I also feel it is unlikely that we could generate enough interest in a local competition to generate the sorts of incomes required to keep players. However, I don’t understand the financials well enough. I thought that most of the money generated from the game (particularly match entry fees) would be from Wallabies games anyway and I think we are, if anything, playing one or two too many Wallabies games per year (I will watch as many as they put on but in terms of players and a proper off-season I think it goes on a bit long).

    However, all the other major sports with national teams and television rights have a national competition, whether they be soccer, AFL, NRL, basketball or netball. So I think, if we are losing money in Super Rugby we would have to look at how much less we could lose moving to a national competition (with potential interest from Asia).

    If we are to persist with an NRC and/or if it is to become the premier level of competition in the country then I think we are now approaching the most workable structure now. Brisbane City, Queensland Country, Sydney City & NSW Country, Melbourne, Perth, ACT. While City and Country are “real” rep. teams any more they have tradition and that is something that is missing and also it might be more palatable for Sydney and Brisbane Club Rugby (though that is probably just wishful thinking). We might add whatever Asia/PI teams we can get to join (hopefully through a successful IPRC/WSR start in 2019). Although, I think you are right that the TV interest overall, unless there was a real buy-in from 3-5 additional Asia Pacific nations, would be limited. Singapore, Hong Kong (dragging back the expats from Europe).

    Dropping back from Reds and Waratahs gives the opportunity for three stand alone State of the Union games each year which could generate some additional interest and revenue.

    I know a lot of people have said that we are best to go it alone with NZ but I am not sure they really want us. Even though its been 1 game (and counting) since a NZ team has between any opposition from Australia ;). I pretend to be a Kiwi and wonder what more a competition with just Australia and NZ teams in it will give me. At the moment, probably some additional TV viewers, some additional travel costs and not a great deal of additional competition and I might just be happier with a stronger ITM cup that ran for longer. Still this doesn’t allow them to keep their big starts either and while it might appear so, I don’t believe there is an endless supply of talent in NZ. A financially weaker NZ opens them up not just to poaching from Northern Hemisphere but from an additional NRL team in NZ or the islands.

    As bad as it might be, some form of Super Rugby seems our best bet. We need the Kiwis, thought they may not need us ((or just us) they are probably going to need someone). Your Super Rugby minus SA might be the most able to stem the flow of players to Europe (maybe add in a US side in Hawaii).

  • Aaron Wally Peardon

    I like this idea, but thought a west coast of north America team could be included maybe in San Francisco or Seattle as it would be a similar time zone to the Jags plus those areas have shown a good loyal following to new sports teams. Plus the Americans love the all blacks.

    • Hugh Cavill

      If we can find a private backer to put up some $$$ to fund it then it’s worth looking at, though you risk turning it into a bit of a circus.

  • Bay35Pablo

    I suspect that robust social media discussion in para 2 was the one with Hoiles, myself and the think tank on Twitter …?
    I thought it was quite polite!!!

    • Hugh Cavill

      Very polite – it was the ideas that were robust, not the individuals :)

  • Gregory Parkes-Skell

    An Asia-Pacific Super Rugby wouldn’t be the worse outcome if we don’t go the domestic route. Though I’d like to see another Asian based team enter the fray. The Sunwolves played in Hong Kong over the weekend out of Mong Kok Stadium. Which would be perfect to start.

    The NZ five plus the Jaguares and a combined PI squad and our 5 with the Sunwolves and Hong Kong in two conferences. We could do similar to that of the Pro 14. You play your in conference opponents home and away for 12 games and then each team from the other conference once for 19 games in all. One united table. Top 8. Grand total of 22 weeks.

  • Tim

    Why not merge with japan’s league. Have two tiers obviously NZ teams would all be in tier one with maybe one or two oz teams. Then get force back in with money pulling players back from overseas. Make Australian born players and nz born players to be picked for their countries if playing in the same league. Therefore you should have a split of talent across all teams.

  • Aussie Coach

    I disagree .. it’s great we are finally talking about it .. but local is the only and best way for Australian Rugby we need to engage corporate Australia and build or stocks and head to centaliztion and this can only happen with a domestic only comp . With strong player rotation policies and aggressive foxtel support . Trans tas is ok but not what we need . A full domsetic comp with Twiggy on borad and all states and territory involved .. no PI or Fiji our foucs needs to be on us and our product and infrusture

  • If you’re going to go down this route, and I think it requires SA to quit rather than be kicked out tbh, I think you need to consider something that some of the US major league sports do and have two (or three in baseball) divisions, where there is some semi-genuine trophy for winning, and then a bigger prize for the overall winner.

    So you would have 2 six team conferences probably, an “Aussie conference” and a “Kiwi conference” which is similar to what you have now. You can still play each other in a round-robin way, or play more intra-conference matches than inter-conference matches as you negotiate. But the finals, instead of the current nonsense, you set up clearly from the beginning, that the Kiwi conference top 4 (or 3 or 2) play off for a champion and the Aussie conference top 4 (or 3 or 2) play off for a conference champion, then the winners of each conference play off for an overall champion.

    It’s not what people are used to right now but it’s not hard to explain to anyone. It’s taken a short paragraph to lay it out after all. And it seems better than an Aussie team with less points getting a guaranteed home quarter final and getting thrashed by a Kiwi side that got a lot more competition points under the current system and then no more interest. Of course it doesn’t guarantee a NZ v Australia final, the non-NZ team could clash with one of the two non-Australian teams in the grand final.

    I’m not sure it will work. But I think it’s got a better chance than a local Australian only system.

    • Hugh Cavill

      I like that idea, and it’s definitely worth considering.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Sorry mate I don’t see how that’s different from what we have now. I’d rather see a round robin every year so that every team plays every other team and the playoffs are the top 5. Each year the home team changes so one year you’re at home and the next year you’re away. Travel would be high and low but would even out and this way the good teams will always rise to the top.

      • It’s meant to be an add-on to Hugh’s suggestion, not an add-on to the current Super Rugby format.

        I intensely dislike the current “conference winners are guaranteed a final’s slot” format but the conferences don’t actually mean anything.

        One option is you do what you see in a lot of other competitions (the Pro 14 say) where it’s just the top 4 finishers play off in semi-finals then a finals. I have no problem with that, but on current showing that would be four NZ sides and the Australian audiences won’t support the competition or show up to support their sides.

        Another option is that you make the conferences meaningful. Lets say there are 2 conferences with 6 teams in each. You don’t want the finals to take forever, so you say the top 4 sides in each conference go into the finals. 1 plays 4, 2 plays 3. Higher ranked team plays at home. Winners play at the higher placed side’s home next week end. That happens for both conference and you get a conference winner. Conference winners play off for grand champion.

        In the NZ conference, basically nothing changes, except you don’t travel across the ditch, and in some years you don’t get a side that travels to SA for a semi and home again for a final. In Australia, most likely, interest is maintained through to at least the finals of their conference and probably the grand final.

        The point is not necessarily to have the two best sides play – currently, if we’re being brutally honest, that’s likely to be in the NZ conference final – although in years gone by that’s not been true, but to have a good competition that bolsters attendance, viewing figures and TV revenues, ideally in both countries. That doesn’t seem to be such an issue in NZ at the moment, but they’re playing such sublime rugby and it’s such an obsession there, that’s not a surprise.

        This might help those things in Australia and it’s a relatively easy fix. It then, potentially, helps makes Australian rugby stronger and that makes the Bledisloe more fun to watch for example.

        And, honestly, we’re about 18 months out from the RWC in Japan. If you HAD to bet your mortgage on it today, would anyone that reads this site choose not to back the All Blacks if it actually mattered that much? Our hearts might say “Oh but…” but if you’d be homeless the next day if you lost? That’s not only due to the weakness of Australian rugby, and the resurgence of SA rugby in Super Rugby might change that bet if you made it next year. If the Irish can win with a Grand Slam next year, they might prove to be a real Northern Hemisphere challenger too. But it’s NOT a good thing that we’re looking at the All Blacks being that far ahead of the rest of the world. Rugby is meant to be a competition and while it can be wonderful to watch them play sublime rugby and beat up a team you don’t support, I can’t help think the sport as a whole would be better off if they were involved in more close games.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    I like the idea of a home tournament but it needs to feed into the next level to be sustainable. I agree that a local competition will never generate the funds needed and so a multi nation competition is needed. One of the biggest problems over here is the lack of a national focus and maybe an expanded NRC will do that.
    While I get the issue with time zones that SA brings I’m just not sure the foreign tv deals will be as interested in a local pacific deal to replace that, and that’s without even looking at the funding, administration and colloquialism issues that the PI teams will bring to the table.
    I also know a pure trans Tasman won’t work and NZ isn’t interested in. To be honest if the Aussie teams just started winning I think you’d find a lot more support regardless of the competition.

    I also think the way the groups are managed as being so unfair is contributing to the lack of support. Australians are super competitive but usually pretty fair and I think as a group are embarrassed with having a home final when they know it’s not deserved and so don’t support it. They know that an undeserving team is getting an advantage and they feel guilty about it and so don’t support it.

  • Greg

    btw…. what happened with Nabura?

  • Ruggaman

    All Saffa teams will eventually end up North. Aussies should keep the NRC as is and have a SR Comp with only 3 Aussie teams, 5 Kiwi teams, Wolves, 2 Arg teams and one PL team which would make it 12 teams for SR. I dont feel Aussies can support 4 SR teams with their player depth.

    Having only 3 teams would mean Aus can hold onto some players looking to go North like Scott Fardy and Nick White. It would also prevent players like Pocock seeking a sabbatical clause to make extra money in Japan only return to Aus injured and adding little value in this years comp

  • Charcoal

    As many have already pointed out, the prospect of a Trans-Tasman or Pacific competition are zilch. The Kiwis aren’t interested without the involvement of the Saffas. That leaves two options – a totally domestic competition or a modified Super Rugby competition.

    I favour the former, even though initially at least, it won’t generate anything like the broadcast revenue from Super Rugby. Where has that got us anyway? In spite of the revenue, Rugby in Australia is going backwards, so what is the point of it? Time to take a risk and chart another course. There’s nothing to lose.

    A domestic competition should take the form of a beefed up NRC played over a full season, rather than the current abbreviated format at the conclusion of the State Premier Rugby competitions. The Premier clubs, particularly in Sydney and Brisbane, may not like it, but they have to fall into line for the greater good of the game. It doesn’t mean that they become any less relevant as they would continue to provide an important pathway for up and coming talent. With more club players recruited to the fully professional NRC teams, it opens up opportunities for more aspiring talented players to make their mark in grade football. As a staunch Shute Shield club supporter, it wouldn’t lessen my desire to continue following my local club team.

    A fully professional NRC competition should initially consist of 8 teams with 2 from Queensland, 3 from NSW and ACT, Melbourne and Perth. The Queensland and NSW teams should be based on geographic regions in Brisbane and Sydney to engender some tribalism. I don’t see the point of having Queensland and NSW Country teams, when most of their players will be from Brisbane and Sydney respectively anyway. As the competition matures additional teams could be added from the main regional centres, such as Newcastle and Townsville. At the conclusion of the NRC, the current Rugby Championship between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina would follow, although I wish they’d change the name (SH Rugby Championship?).

    In negotiating a broadcast deal for an enhanced NRC, RA should have the balls to insist that it is mandatory that any contract with Foxtel should include a FTA commitment for live broadcasts or at the very least re-plays. It doesn’t have to be the match of the day, but should be at least one or two FTA matches.

    The second best option would be to maintain the Super Rugby format, but with separate domestic conferences involving Australia, New Zealand and South Africa only. No Argentina or Japan. Each conference would play home and away matches, followed by a Champions League with the top two sides in each conference playing in a final’s series as Sheek has continuously championed. The international Rugby Championship would follow.

    • Ed

      The worst part of a Champions League with the top two sides from each conference is where the second side of one conference is not as good as the fourth team in another conference, ie: the Rebels are not as good as either the Chiefs or Highlanders. This idea would devalue the suggested finals format.

      • John

        In Europe they adjust the number of teams per country and review the performances for that reason.

    • Hugh Cavill

      I disagree the prospects of this comp are ‘zilch’. South Africa have made noises about shifting more teams to Europe to follow the Cheetahs and Kings. It’s not out of the realm of possibility they up stumps – Super Rugby isn’t working for them, either.

      Which would leave NZ with two options – go it alone or join up with us. They are in the same boat as RA in regards to TV money, they need it to keep their big stars in the stable. So the Pacific Cup would be their most viable option, as an expanded ITM Cup would be fairly unappealing to global broadcasters.

      And while I don’t mind your expanded NRC proposal, I think you need to build in some involvement of the Tahs, Reds, Rebels, Brumbies and Force. These are existing brands with big recognition and a long history (in the case of Reds, Tahs, Brumbs). We can’t just walk away from them.

      • Gregory Parkes-Skell

        Wouldn’t have to necessarily. In fact for the likes of the Brumbies and Rebels you could just move them right across. Same as the force has. Regarding the Reds and Tahs. A re-brand would all that would be needed to both Brisbane and Sydney. Which is all honestly is essentially what they have represented since the inception of SR. From there you just need to either look to use the two Country’s or Western Sydney and another Queensland side or if you’re really daring an Adelaide based squad.

        With the inclusion of the Drua you’d have 8. If things are mended between RA and Forrest and in order to get him on board from a financing perspective if a couple of Asian based squads are necessary then so be it. My preferences on those would be the Sunwolves and a Hong Kong team playing out of Mong Kok Stadium.

  • TheMountain

    So Maybe Twiggy and his crazy ramblings are the saviour of Australian Rugby after all? if you ran the NRC format similar to the NRL with say 12 teams. fiji, samoa tonga, western sydney(rams), sydney, brisbane melbourne western force, country queensland and canberra initially. Eventually expand to singapore et al. could eventually become a decent feeder for the game. problem, yes, is the revenue but i’m sure if the first few years shows improvement in quality, then TV money will come. really it would be cool to see players from places like Kenya(who have a great 7’s team) and Sri Lanka(who have more registered rugby players than australia, yes the quality will not be the same) coming into the comp to expand the interest from the audience

    • TheMountain

      as an aside I would havbe thought the NRL sides would have converted at least one or 2 south africans to come play? they love pillaging the islands, why not SA?

  • paul

    I like your ideas Hugh, its definitely a start. I personally think we need to add the Force, its a gaping wound right now, and for the game to move forward a solution is required (plus i think twiggy s money will be needed).

    I personally would prefer just a domestic comp, but i can equally see your point about money, so this could get more traction.

    As for NZ, they have been very quite, but ultimately they know they have to make a decision, maybe before its made for them.

    I’m just not sure that SA would want to put all the eggs in the NH basket just yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they advocate something like 4 North Hemisphere-2 South Hemisphere split. Now that could be a spanner.

  • 22DropOut

    I have a radical suggestion…

    Australia runs its own competition (or with NZ) but also participates in an international competition, but not Super Rugby. Why not push to have the Heineken Cup/European Champions Cup expanded to include Southern Hemisphere teams.

    The calendar practicalities of this would be tough, however it is manageable it the knockout stages are timed as they are now and the group stages could be regionally based. This competition would overlap domestic seasons, but this happens in European football anyway.

    A Heineken Cup featuring the best teams from the Southern Hemisphere too would be a formidable competition with global TV appeal and audiences. It could appeal to all stakeholders. Financially it would bring in a lot of revenue and we could still run our own domestic/tasman competition with all the benefits that entails, and still have the same amount of games as we do now.

  • Brian Holdsworth

    South Africa has its own domestic Currie Cup competition. The Kiwis have there own domestic competitions. So why does’t Australian rugby have its own domestic state championship competition with the same Australian teams that participate in Super rugby plus the Force. This would be a strength vs strength scenario. This competition would see Australia’s best players battling it out for the honour of becoming Australia’s rugby union inter state champions. Australian rugby would be able to sell this competition to international Tv viewers. And it would sell locally. Australian rugby could start this competition at the end of the Super rugby competition. And by the way I listened to your Crash ball podcast show while I was driving to work yesterday. You introduced Allan Jones but you did not introduce yourself.
    I loved your show it was really good. You were absolutely superb keep up the good work. However no offence intended but Allan Jones is not adding any value to your show at all. He hardly says a anything. Surely you could have more interesting and more colourful guests on your show.

  • RobC

    Thanks Hugh. Among other things, I would continue SR, and expand NRC

  • andrewM

    Whilst I don’t disagree with your ‘Pacific Championship’ model Hugh the fact it doesn’t include the Force as part of the solution means its no solution at all. If we do see the emergence of other cashed-up would-be rugby club owners in the Asian region willing to be part of Twiggy’s IPRC/WSR dream then Australian Rugby will have a further dilemma on its hands – not just cashed up European clubs, but also a cashed up Force and more Asian clubs as well, and the player drain will continue.

    How much longer can Australian Rugby avoid proactively engaging with Andrew Forrest to develop a post 2020 rugby model for Australian and NZ Rugby? The longer they avoid the question, the more restricted their options may become – will we see the emergence of a Super League War or World Series Cricket tussle, with teams and players being forced to decide what is best for them? Will the Fijians, Samoans or Tongans feel they have any allegiance to Rugby Australia once they become part of WSR?


Can't write, can't play. Tahs and Wallabies.

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