Cape Town - Global expansion moves closer with new teams, a new format and exciting new players entering the fray of the new bigger and bolder version of Vodacom Super Rugby, which was officially launched in Johannesburg on Thursday.
Coaches, captains, senior players and administrators from all six South African teams attended the event in Randburg, where the excitement was palpable, a mere eight days before kick-off.
The decision to expand Vodacom Super Rugby from 15 to 18 teams was taken in November 2014 in London and this exciting new format of the competition will officially kick off next Friday, on 26 February, at the iconic Eden Park in Auckland.
From a South African point of view, the opening round will be an historic occasion with a proper dose of high drama mixed in. The Emirates Lions will travel to Tokyo for the first-ever match in Japan; the Toyota Cheetahs will host the first Argentinean team and the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks travel to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth respectively for mouth-watering local derbies against the DHL Stormers and Southern Kings.
Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Singapore and Suva in Fiji are the four new host cities added to the roster this year, while teams will return to Port Elizabeth for the first time since 2013.
“This new era of Vodacom Super Rugby, which features an exciting and brand-new structure, will see the competition not quite go global yet, but get just about half way there,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux at the launch event.
“The competition will now span five continents and 16 time zones, from Buenos Aires to Auckland, include three new entrants in a new format that is routine in places such as the United States but is a new departure for us.
“Our fans will have to embrace a new format, but for us there is one very simple truth: half of the South African teams have a very good chance of making the play offs.
“The format is a win for SA Rugby – we listened to our coaches and our supporters and we got the result we wanted – less travel away and a shorter tour of Australasia, which will come down to one and half weeks in some cases when at one stage it was more than a month long.
“Our teams also didn’t want an increase in the number of intense local derbies and instead of facing 10 there will now be only seven. There were also comments that the 15-team format needed an overhaul, which is another reason for this major shake-up.
“And, in terms of player welfare, there was a concern that expansion would mean a heavier toll on players but, crucially, the new format has meant the schedule has been reduced by one match in the regular season, despite increasing participants.
“It might be new-look but there is one certainty: the winner of this competition will still be the best team in arguably toughest provincial competition in world rugby.”
Apart from the expansion from 15 to 18 teams and the change to a conference system, teams will also have to adapt to a new try-scoring bonus point system, where sides will get an additional log point if they can score at least three tries more than their opponents.
“This will see teams play for the full 80 minutes, which will ultimately lead to a more attacking approach, but also a continued focus on defence until the final whistle goes,” said Roux.
“All things considered, this competition will lift the already high standards we’ve become accustomed to even more.”
For every try scored by a South African team, Vodacom will donate R7000 towards setting up e-libraries and donating books to schools and communities that need it most during this year’s Tries for Books campaign.
Fans will be encouraged to donate books at stadiums around the country which will be distributed to underprivileged schools.