I honestly believe, in announcing the cessation of the Western Force’s license, the ARU has finally signed Super Rugby (SR) and SANZAAR’s death warrants.
Super Rugby has expanded beyond redemption and it all boils down to South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) selfish agenda and the lack of a spine from the ARU and NZRU.
The result? The demise of the spine of the competition, which was based around each side playing one another in a round robin format, along with the spirit of local derbies.
End of Super 12 (1995-2005)
The South Africa started to dip its toes into a Northern Hemisphere rugby market when it appeared to come to an agreement with the Celtic League in 2005.
The provisionally named ‘Rainbow Cup’ was set to be given the go-ahead in 2006, the blueprint – a competition comprising of 11 existing Celtic League outfits, 9 South African provinces and 4 Italian sides.
The talks inevitably fell through, however South African rugby was handed the ammunition to manipulate the Super Rugby competition. All they had to do was threaten to look north.
Expansion to Super 15
In 2010 the decision was made to expand Super 14 to a 15 team competition for the 2011 season and Australia was looking to pick up their 5th team, now the Melbourne Rebels.
For me this is where the first red flag started to show.
At this point the SARU aggressively pursued the addition of a 6th South African side. They backed these demands up with threats to leaving SR to join the evolution of the Celtic League, then known as the Magners league (today’s PRO 14, yesterdays PRO 12).
The Eastern Cape (Southern King’s) franchise was ruled as having financial and administrational troubles and in order to placate SARU a compromised conference system was created.
The hybrid format was a blend of the ‘top six’ finals system (preferred by the ARU & NZRU) and the conference system (preferred by SARU), in which the winners of each national conference, comprising of 5 sides, progressed through to the finals along with the next top 3 seeded sides.
The compromise was the beginning of the end for the round robin format, as each side would play only 4 of the 5 teams from differing conferences.
Expansion to Super 18
When discussion of potential expansion was on the cards yet again, SARU President Oregan Hoskins made his intentions clear, stating “If we don’t have six teams [from 2016 onwards] we might as well shut doors” and “look north”.
The proposed format put forward by the SARU? A split format where one competition would be made up of the expanded South African conference (6 South African and 1 Argentinian) and the other based on a New Zealand and Australia competition, with the addition of an Asian side.
The main driver for this structure was internal politics in SARU, as their 6 franchises were promised a spot in the competition by the national body, however only 5 places were guaranteed.
Yet again Australia and New Zealand yielded to the demands of SARU and the current 4 conference, 2 group shamble of a structure was created.
If you don’t understand the structure, you are not alone and it baffles me how both the Lions and Sharks qualified for the finals without playing a single New Zealand side throughout the regular season. The latter earning 7 of their 9 wins against the bottom half of the competition!
The Super Rugby Cull
During the 2017 season, SANZAAR fundamentally admitted the current format was flawed and it was agreed by all parties that the 18 competition would be reduced to 15 franches, with 2 South African sides and 1 Australian side to be culled.
The recent state of disarray, compounded by threats and law suits by the Australian franchises on the chopping blocks ensued, however it appeared their was a silence across the Indian Ocean. The Cheetahs and Kings were named as the sides to go, yet where was the outrage?
Maybe they knew something we didn’t know?
Sure enough, in July it was announced that the 2 aforementioned South African sides were set to join the Pro 12.
So after all this kerfuffle (yup you read that right… I said kerfuffle) the only team who was truly set for the axe was the Western Force.
No one could honestly tell me that South Africa agreed to the competitions contraction without knowing full well that it would force Australia’s hand, whilst they get to reap the benefit of testing the waters in Europe, something they have been trying/threatening to do since way back in 2005.
A Pacific based SR competition has been touted as a potential structure post-2020, in which the Force will likely be required to rejoin current Australian, New Zealand and Japanese sides, with the addition of teams from the Pacific Islands or around Asia.
Where would that leave South Africa?
Well, after revisiting the intentions of the SARU over the years, you would be naive to think that the rest of the South African teams wont pack their rugby bags and fulfil their threat of leaving Super Rugby once and for all.
But what state would the remainder of the competition be left in?
A rucking hot mess!
Vented by Nelson Dale