For an oke who would like to see the top 4 sides in the Currie Cup participate in a Super 12 that sees every side play against each other, this gargantuan new Super 18 is positively vomit inducing.
Throw in the fact that the four groups/pools are different sizes and that one of the African groups will only get to play against Aussie opposition in a given year, and nibbling on said vomit seems more appealing!
But that is a slightly superficial and unfair take on what SANZAR have come up with. Dig a little deeper, and perhaps, given the constraints the powers that be were working within, this new convoluted tournament is not as bad as it first sounds?
The SARU General Council vote count on whether South Africa needed a sixth franchise in Super Rugby was 14 to 0! The players, together with their unions, wanted less games, and less travel. So that is what CEO Jurie Roux, together with the best TV numbers in the tournament by far, took to the bargaining table.
Whether we will be able to staff or afford a sixth franchise is for another debate (interestingly though, the Kiwis were against it to begin with, as they see it as a way for SA to grow (rather than dilute) their player base, but in the end, it became one of two primary reasons as to why the tournament restructure took place. The other was to expand into growth markets like South America and Asia.
So how do you accommodate a sixth South African franchise, shrink the amount of games and travel, while still accommodating countries that exist on different sides of the planet?
Sure the countries up North are an option, and it is understood that they were keen to have a chat, especially with South Africa given the time zone similarities, but they have not exactly been drinking champagne and eating caviar while discussing the future of the Heineken Cup!
I have a feeling that this remains an option, and that more games between the two will happen in the interim, perhaps as warm up games, or perhaps in a second tier tournament that will replace the current Vodacom Cup, but it is understood that the IRB are a long way from OK’ing anything official just yet.
So with a new South African franchise and 2 teams to come from new markets (1 from Argentina, the other yet to be decided), SANZAR had to make a plan to accommodate 18 teams.
The round robin option was binned for player welfare reasons...
The plain 2 conference option was binned by broadcasters for lacking decent content...
The plain 3 conference system was binned because of both player welfare, and because positioning of new teams became tricky (if in Australasia, it would have meant massive extra travel for the SA sides) …
So we have ... 18 teams … 2 conferences ... 4 groups ... 15 games per team ... quarter-finals with 1 side guaranteed from each conference, 3 from Africa, and 5 from Down Under!
In a nutshell, from and SA perspective, think of it as a 6, 5, 4 tournament ... 6 games home and away in your own group, 5 games against EITHER the Aussies or Kiwis (2 home one year, 2 away the next), and 4 against the other African group (2 away, 2 home).
So while it is untidy that 3 South African sides will miss out on playing the Kiwis completely every second year, it does mean that the tournament will be different every year, and at least we do keep that vital SA v Aus v NZ flavour.
For me, the spice will come in how the 6 SA sides get divided, and who will get that 18th franchise. How about a European-based side made up South African players playing their trade overseas, but still under the SARU roof in some way?
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt
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