In recent weeks, reports have emerged that the Super Rugby franchises in South Africa have threatened to abandon the Super Rugby championship next season if the proposed inclusion of the Southern Kings fail to materialise.
The Southern Kings are based in the the province of the Eastern Cape and have the most largest number of black players registered in the playing squad.
It seems the talks of Super Rugby expansion is driven mainly by politics, and it is sad to see the game in South Africa still continually plagued by such issues.
But do we really need South Africa in the Super Rugby championship?
Surely Australian and New Zealand rugby can survive without South Africa? Australia and New Zealand will forever be eternal rivals, but what do we share with South Africa?
I believe the time has come for the ARU and NZRU to form a trans-Tasman league consisting of sixteen to eighteen clubs.
New Zealand has the advantage of already having an established domestic championship (ITM Cup) with fourteen teams, whilst Australia currently only boasts state rugby championships outside of the five Super Rugby franchises. At best Australia could possibly support seven clubs (two from Quensland and NSW, and one each from Victoria, ACT, WA).
Shortage of Australian talent should not be a huge obstacle, as previously discussed in another article, there are dozens of Australians plying their trade in Europe and Japan. Many of them left Australian shores at a young age simply because they couldn’t break into one of the five Super Rugby teams – Brock James at Clermont-Auvergne in France is a famous example.
Increasing the number of teams in the country will ensure youngsters will be given more opportunities to pursue a career in professional rugby, rather than be swayed to other sporting codes with more contracts up for grabs in the AFL or NRL.
One that comes to mind is Jared Waerea-Hargreaves of the Manly Sea Eagles, who was recruited to rugby league after he never got a shot at the Waratahs.
Also to ensure sufficient depth in the playing roster, each club could be allowed to sign up to seven foreign players: three from the Pacific Island nations and Asia (Japan, Korea) and another three from the Americas (Argentina, USA, Canada) and one free slot (Europe or Africa). Last week I was watching the Wellington Sevens and was amazed by the sheer amount of talented players from the tier-two nations.
Increased inclusion of foreign players will undoubtedly benefit both the competition and their respective national teams. Both the players and fans in Australia will be exposed to the distinct playing styles of players hailing from around the world. At the same time these foreign players will benefit from being involved in a professional environment and also rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the Southern Hemisphere.
In particular, the Pacific Island nations could reap the most rewards, these countries have failed to live up to expectations on many occasions due to their lack of training time as players have been tied in with their European employers. Having a trans-Tasman competition will encourage this group to remain close to their homes and increase their prospects for the national teams come the test season.
Not only do the majority of Australian and New Zealand rugby fans relish derby clashes in Super Rugby, but they also enjoy watching trans-Tasman matches as well.
I believe there are many positives for Australian rugby if such a championship is formed in the future.