In the words of the Katie Perry “Super Rugby changes structures, like a girl changes clothes” and very few fans would disagree that the current system is in a shambles.
There is no doubt that the most recent venture into expansion and the inclusion of the Argentinian Jaguares and the Japanese Sunwolves, was intended to broaden the marketing base, hopefully providing a gravy train for the host nations. Yet,the most recent evolution of the competition to a two conference, four group structure, in which many teams will face off only once every second year has proven confusing at best, and disastrous at worst.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe expansion is a natural progression, but at what point do we step back and look towards a long term goal? SANZAAR needs to ask itself, where do we want this competition to be in 10 years?
Current considerations seem to bosh any talks of further expansion, rather suggesting a more condensed 16-franchise format may replace the current 18-franchise format. With the recent additions; the Jaguares and the Sunwolves being seen as important strategic partners, particular leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, this would leave both Australia and South Africa to say sayonara to one of their teams respectively.
Im not sure about you, but I for one find the concept of removing two teams from the founding nations of the competition, whilst retaining two more recent teams from outside the traditional SANZAR catchment area execrable.
Back home in Australia there is no doubt that Bill Pulver agrees Australian rugby can’t “shrink to greatness” in the nations competitive sports market. Therefore, a more sustainable system needs to be developed.
So where do we look to find a successful simple structure, which will allow for expansion, whilst not diluting the competition talent pool and resulting in more and more predictable outcomes. How about the Northern Hemisphere?
Both France and England have multi-tiered, promotion and relegation structures which if adopted by SANZAAR would allow for further expansion whilst keeping the competition competitive. With the current 18 franchises, two tiers of 9 teams could be created, with each tier holding 16 rounds of matches in a more traditional home and away format.
This structure would not only allow for future expansion without continuously harming its essence but it would also provide more ‘make or break games’ including two lots of finals as well as games where relegation may be on the line. More games of higher importance would also be an attractive draw card for sponsorship and TV rights deals.
A two-tiered system would also seemlessly allow for the immediate or delayed inclusion of Pacific nation sides, something that has been suggested for many years, yet never coming to fruition with fears that it may further weaken and complicate the competition.
The inclusion of a Fijian side, which may be based in both Suva as well as the Gold Coast and a joint Tongan/Samoan, based in those nations as well as Auckland, would allow for two 10 team tiers competed over 18 weeks. The split home locations of the sides would reduce the financial strain, as well as draw support from the large Pacific Islander populations in both Australia and New Zealand.
If the two Pacific sides were to joint the current 18 franchises and they were divided into a Super Rugby Championship (first tier) and a Super Rugby Cup (second tier), based on the performances in recent years, this is how it may look:
SUPER RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
SUPER RUGBY CUP
The Pros of the two-tier system
- It provides a long term structure which can be expanded without losing its integrity
- It reduces the number of ‘blow-out’ games, keeping fans more invested
- It simplifies a complicated conference and group system including finals
- Every team will play a home and away game against every team in their tier
- Promotion/relegation will add to the number of games with increased importance (attendance/advertisement)
- It provides a better structure for Pacific based sides to join, as well as increasing the likelihood that the new teams (Jaguares and Sunwolves) may earn a few more wins, therefore strengthening their corresponding national sides and fan bases.
- It prevents the loss of current franchises.
The Cons of the two-tier system
- Less local derbies, mainly for non New Zealand sides
- Potentially more travel across current conferences
Tell me what you think and if you like this idea, share it!
Written by Nelson Dale