Sun, 12 Jul 2020

Star All Blacks and Wallabies are eager to see South Africa axed from Super RugbyFrom a monetary perspective, it may be a wise move and it could also stem the outflux of star Springboks to big-spending European clubsHowever, not facing the trend-setting Kiwi teams could prove harmful for the South African brand in the long run

As is the case with all sports around the globe, the Covid-19 crisis has thrown the 2020 rugby calendar into disarray.

It has also led to widespread discussion regarding the direction of the game going forward, with many "experts" adding their voices as to what is the best way forward for the sport.

In New Zealand and Australia there have been renewed talks of a trans-Tasman Super Rugby event excluding South Africa - and idea former All Black flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens has trumpeted for a few years now. He's called for New Zealand and Australia to tap into the Asian market and play an event solely within their own time zones.

A weekend report out of Australia also indicated that players - some of them star Wallabies and All Blacks - want to see a trans-Tasman competition involving the existing nine franchises from each country along with the re-introduction of the Western Force, while the addition of a Pacific Island team would also be welcomed.

There are also reports out of New Zealand that the TV broadcasting deals - which for long gave SA Rugby the bargaining power - are now leaning more in favour of the Kiwis courtesy of a bumper new Sky deal and the weakening Rand. According to the Stuff website, the Kiwis are plotting ways to radically change the Super Rugby concept, potentially leaving South Africa out in the wilderness.

It's no secret that the Super Rugby product has become outdated in recent years - and one wonders whether a return to Super 14 from next year will help stop the bleeding.

Whatever perceptions are floating about, it's clear that a few Kiwis and Aussies want South Africa - and Argentina for that matter - out of Super Rugby.

It may not be a simple task - provided the TV deals in place - and it would also likely mean the disbanding of Sanzaar, the governing body which oversees proceedings for southern hemisphere rugby.

Such a move would likely also be a death knell for the Rugby Championship - an idea not completely out of synch with this writer - but that is a major point of discussion on its own.

The question around this issue is whether South Africa would want to explore a move away from Super Rugby.

A move to the northern hemisphere has been mentioned more than once over the past few years and there is no doubt lots to gain should South Africa ever opt for that route.

PROS

The Cheetahs and Southern Kings, who were axed from Super Rugby a few years ago, already ply their trade in the PRO14 and there have been suggestions that Griquas and the Pumas could follow suit in the years to come.

There have also been talks of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises joining either the PRO14 or European Champions Cup (Europe's version of Super Rugby) - or even an expanded version of PRO14 and Premiership Rugby.

From a logistical perspective, a move to the north would be a no-brainer for South Africa. The similar time zones make travelling easier allowing South African teams to easily fly out a few days before a match.

From a monetary perspective, the potential in the north would be huge for South Africa. Similar time zones would likely translate to a greater TV viewership and ultimately provide a further financial boon.

South African teams playing against northern foes on a regular basis could also help stem the outflux of several star players to big-spending European clubs. The potential monetary boost could help the SA franchises competing better against the likes of Saracens and Toulon.

It would also put those frontline Springboks playing abroad back into the spotlight on local TV screens and stadiums.

Just imagine Springbok stars Eben Etzebeth and Cheslin Kolbe running out for Toulon against the Stormers at a packed Cape Town Stadium.

It's reasonable to assume that there would be renewed interest and it would also provide the Springbok coach with a closer view of some key personnel.

CONS

While a move north seems more logical, one has to consider some drawbacks that SA rugby bosses will no doubt consider before any possible shift.

Would leaving the southern hemisphere - and weekly competition against the trend-setting New Zealand sides - hamper the quality of the South African game?

At the start of professionalism, there was no doubt that the southern hemisphere powerhouses were a step ahead of their northern rivals, and while gap has diminished in recent years, it would be daft not to want to measure yourself as often as possible against the quality of opposition emanating from Australasia.

Would a break-up in the Sanzaar alliance also mean fewer internationals against Australia and New Zealand?

My immediate answer would be 'yes' and not playing against the All Blacks and Wallabies often enough could harm the Springbok brand in the long run.

Super Rugby, as it was in its early form, was every bit as its name described: SUPER!

And with the number of teams being reduced to 14 next year, it appears as though organisers have finally grasped the importance of the "less is more" concept.

I believe the tournament still has the potential to return to its former glory and if that proves to be the case, SA Rugby would kick themselves if they're not a part of that.

There could also be the argument that that greater exposure for South Africa in the northern hemisphere would just see more of our players scooped up by the super-rich European clubs.

Due to the adverse weather conditions, the club game in Europe is also played in a somewhat different manner than down south, with the wet, heavy conditions forcing a more attritional type of game style.

Don't get me wrong, South African rugby players often thrive in more forward-oriented and physical contests but it would be daft arguing that the fast-paced, often helter-skelter, environment of Super Rugby has not reaped rewards over the years.

With the Cheetahs and Kings currently in the PRO14, South Africa is the only southern nation with participation in both hemispheres and a continued presence on both fronts may be a more viable option for SA Rugby.

Perhaps pushing harder for the inclusion of Griquas and the Pumas - both of whom were recently granted franchise status - into the PRO14 or some other event up north would be a viable option. It would leave South Africa boasting four franchises in both hemispheres.

It's no doubt a complicated topic of discussion for South Africa to leave Super Rugby would take careful consideration.

On a hunch, I'm leaning more on the side of staying put... there's great potential for Super Rugby to its former glory, provided the "less is more concept" is fully embraced.

READ | Super 10: ONLY way to get the magic back!

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