Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Don’t quit SANZAR - Kirwan
Cape Town – South African rugby would be unwise to consider fracturing the SANZAR alliance and seeking new horizons north of the equator.
Nor would there be any guarantee of South African acceptance anyway into the tradition-steeped Six Nations or, for instance, the English Premiership club competition.
So says legendary All Blacks wing and Japanese national team coach John Kirwan, visiting this country as a New Zealand 2011 Government Ambassador to stimulate local interest in the looming World Cup there.
In an exclusive interview with Sport24, the 63-Test international from 1984 to 1994 said a combined switch in strategic direction by the existing partners in the trio (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) would be a more beneficial approach for all parties.
He was responding to weekend reports that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) was contemplating quitting SANZAR after 2015 partly because of a “strained relationship” with the other partners, which would jeopardise both Super rugby and the soon-to-be-remodelled Four Nations also featuring Argentina.
“This is my personal belief and not one of the NZRFU, but I think we need to change our direction (as SANZAR).
“I don’t think Super 15 is our future. I believe you guys should play Currie Cup, we could play NPC and invite the Australians into our competition, and then we should break every six weeks or so to play something like a Heineken Cup.
“In that respect, we should introduce the Japanese, because Asia is where the money is, and start building something on that basis.
“If you (South Africa) aim toward the UK, you only go there because there’s more money and you can get a slightly bigger pot of gold.
“But if we stay together as SANZAR, why don’t we expand purposefully into Asia? You could create a scenario where you, for instance, actually strengthen your Currie Cup. Instead of developing five (Super rugby) teams you can develop up to 10 teams.
“So you’re keeping your base healthy, and then we’re breaking up to play a Heineken Cup. So every few weeks down here in the Cape, for instance, you might have a pool with Canterbury coming to play Western Province, as well as a Japanese team and a Fijian team. And then you go into playoffs.
“That way you immediately start broadening how we can start making some money. In SANZAR we’re limited: we’ve got four million people in New Zealand and you’re not going to get any rights out of us; we’ve got the All Blacks.
“There are 18 million in Australia and 48 million here, but probably only 15 you can financially rely on.”
Kirwan said a big plus in Asia was that some 20 world-famous international companies sponsor Japanese rugby, for no return.
“They all spend between five and 10 million dollars a year and the stadiums aren’t full, but because it’s good for the community. Toyota’s advertising budget is one billion dollars a year.
“So I don’t know why you (South Africa) want to go to a saturated market, which is the UK. What are you going to do?
“I don’t think they’d let you in anyway. Why would they open up the Six Nations or the Premiership to the African sides that could end up winning it?”*A fuller version of Sport24’s interview with Kirwan to follow...