Herman Mostert

‘Back to the Future’ for SA in Super Rugby?

2017-03-24 12:11
Herman Mostert

Following a recent meeting of SANZAAR delegates in London to discuss the future of the under-fire Super Rugby structure, one thing seems clear: the number of teams participating in the tournament will be reduced.

While there have been some denials locally, at this stage the general consensus is that the competition will be reduced from 18 to 15 teams from next year.

This proposed model sees the Jaguares and Sunwolves retained, with Australia dropping one team and South Africa losing two.

This is a scenario South African rugby bosses will no doubt dread, but for the competition to improve its popularity and competitiveness, it’s clear that some reduction in the number of teams needs to occur.

Having six teams in Super Rugby has diluted the strength of South African rugby, as has been the case with Australia having five sides.

Something needs to give and if the decision is made for South Africa to drop two teams, then SA Rugby will have its hands full trying to find a solution.

On form, the Southern Kings and Cheetahs will be the ones to go, but it's unlikely to be as clear-cut.

Will SA Rugby allow the Kings to go, especially after lobbying for so long for their inclusion in an expanded competition?

The Kings were the reason Super Rugby was expanded in the first place, as SA Rugby used its TV rights bargaining power to appease government.

The Eastern Cape region boasts a strong heritage of black rugby representation and the Kings’ participation of the event was seen as a necessity.

But the Kings have been a disaster from the word go, with financial mismanagement ruining the union to such an extent that it forced SA Rugby to help fund the franchise.

Maybe the realisation has dawned on SA Rugby that the whole idea behind the Kings living up to their name was nothing more than a pipe dream.

Eastern Province’s recent demotion from the Currie Cup Premier Division adds fuel to the fire of that argument...

The Cheetahs have in recent times also been nothing more than also-rans in Super Rugby and are second behind the Kings as the worst performing South African team (click here to see their woeful stats).

There have also been talks of a merger between the Lions and Bulls, but that idea is a bit far-fetched in my opinion.

These two franchises are two of the current giants of the South African game - financially and from a player depth perspective.

Let’s say the decision for South Africa to lose two teams becomes official, it would be fair to see the Cheetahs and Kings go down.

That will, however, leave SA Rugby with lots to ponder, deciding how standout players from these two regions will be integrated into Super Rugby.

Will the best crop of Cheetahs and Kings just simply be distributed among the remaining four franchises?

I fear this system will not be conducive in the long run and therefore the necessity to have the franchises merge with the remaining ones may be the only logical solution.

It could see a return to the old system first introduced in 1998 when South Africa formed four franchises in the then Super 12.

Remember the Cats?! I’m sure Lions and Cheetahs fans would rather want to forget that merger, but the Cheetahs again re-joining the men from Johannesburg may be the only way forward.

Eastern Province, along with Border and Natal, formed the then Coastal Sharks franchise and from a logistical point of view, the Kings may be forced to again join forces with their coastal rivals.

Reverting back to a system that had its drawbacks will no doubt cop criticism, but it will at least be better than having both the Cheetahs and Kings out in the cold.

The upside of this argument is that the strength of the professional game in South Africa will not be as diluted as it currently is under the six-team model.

It will create a strength versus strength model and could also help stem the flow of talented players abroad.

As that famous 1980s movie starring Michael J. Fox was titled, heading ‘Back to the Future’ may be the only way forward for South African rugby...

Herman Mostert works at Sport24 - is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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