Heineken Cup split a trump card for South Africa’s Super Rugby hopes

Colin Kennedy Roar Guru

By Colin Kennedy, Colin Kennedy is a Roar Guru

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    News that English and French clubs plan to break away from the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions – coupled to their invitation to other countries to join them – has implications for Super Rugby because it puts South Africa in charge of negotiations.

    There’s been a lot of speculation about how Super Rugby is set to change, with the most popular speculation that Australia and New Zealand will form one pool and South Africa and Argentina (with possibly Japan or a Pacific Island team), in the other.

    The general feeling from Australia has been that it is South Africa who is upsetting the apple cart by demanding a sixth team – which is of course true, thanks to internal politics.

    In fact I would suggest that the political priorities will take precedence over what’s good for the game in South Africa.

    Some would argue that a sixth team is a long term investment and while South Africa may suffer from a lack of better competition from Australia and New Zealand in the short term, the country will at least enjoy more derbies and the long term benefits of the new competition will be good for rugby its self.

    Australian officials have been particularly keen to send South Africa off into the Argentine wilderness and have been driving the new proposals very strongly, but the break-up of the Heineken Cup suddenly puts South Africa in the driving seat because it offers real alternatives.

    Simply put, if South Africa does not get what it wants, it could go north.

    I for one would feel ill if Mr Bill Pulver got his way with the two-pool system.

    The South African politicians would be happy because a sixth teams offers opportunities to redress racial imbalances, and the quality of South African rugby be damned.

    South Africa would be consigned to the equivalent of kindergarten rugby – essentially babysitting fledgling nations. Nobody gets better playing themselves or teams weaker than they are.

    It would be bad news for South Africa and bad news for Southern Hemisphere rugby – in fact, if the new Super Rugby format were to go through, South Africa could kiss goodbye any chance of ever winning a Rugby Championship, never mind the Rugby World Cup.

    However, the announcement by Premiership Rugby, representing the English clubs and French counterpart Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), to set up a new European competition means South Africa will probably keep its sixth team and still get to play in the sandbox with the big kids (namely the All Blacks and Wallabies).

    A statement from the English and French clubs said they would terminate the current European Rugby Cup (ERC) competitions at the end of this season.

    The statement read:

    “Despite numerous meetings between the stakeholders over the last year, the last of which was in May, discussions have been unsuccessful and the clubs can only conclude that negotiations on any new European agreement have now ended.

    “However, given the importance and urgency of the current position, and the reconfirmation that the French clubs will not participate in any competition unless it includes the English clubs, the clubs have now asked Premiership Rugby to take immediate action to put in place a competition for 2014/15 to include the French and English clubs but which will also be open to teams from other countries.”

    The words “open to teams from other countries” must be music to the ears of South African administrators who, I believe, have just been handed a trump card.

    My hope is that common sense will prevail; that Super Rugby will be split into two pools featuring a mix of South African, Australian and Argentine teams.

    If it’s one thing South African rugby does not need, it’s a repeat of a glorified Currie Cup competition featuring minnows from Argentina, Japan and any other country outside the top five.

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    The Crowd Says (276)

    • Roar Guru

      September 11th 2013 @ 12:22pm
      Myles Stedman said | September 11th 2013 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

      Why don’t we just give South Africa a sixth team (they can support one anyway), shut them up, and then all go and join this new “Heinekin Cup” with the French and English. Bad luck Pro12, it’s going down the drain is anyway :/

      • September 12th 2013 @ 9:51pm
        Samual Johnson said | September 12th 2013 @ 9:51pm | ! Report

        Super rugby would go down the drain if RSA left. NZ, economy the size of a small pie shop in Melbourne and rugby is very much the 4th ranked footballing game for interest and participation in Australia.

        Maybe the player’s would like to go back to amateurism or semi professional if the South Africans went to Europe.

        If you think about it, the Saffers could get rid of Super rugby and then pick off the best talent to play in it’s sides over in Europe.

        A clever plan.

    • September 11th 2013 @ 12:38pm
      DR said | September 11th 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      Its a worry to me Colin. I certainly hope a solution can be found to ensure SA remains in Super Rugby.

      Posted a link in TEC artilce when I heard. What is your gut feeling Colin? Will SA stay or go?

      • Roar Guru

        September 11th 2013 @ 2:37pm
        Colin Kennedy said | September 11th 2013 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

        I think and hope they stay DR. I think officials were between a rock and a hard place – politicians on one side & SANZAR partners the other. This Heineken move is potential leverage…

        • September 11th 2013 @ 5:23pm
          IvanN said | September 11th 2013 @ 5:23pm | ! Report

          South africa can play in both competitions really, Put 3 or 4 teams into SR and send 1 or 2 teams to the new Heineken. But splitting SA to a pool with Arg wont help us at all, If we leave SR – the game in Australia is dead and buried, so Aus should shut the hell up. we dont need SR, i would prefer we play the Heineken and even drop the RC in favour of tours to Aus or NZ alternating each year with proper pre-match fixtures and a series of 3 tests, Currie cup is still the biggest rugby in SA.

          • Roar Guru

            September 11th 2013 @ 7:09pm
            Colin Kennedy said | September 11th 2013 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

            What I was thinking…

          • Roar Guru

            September 11th 2013 @ 11:42pm
            biltongbek said | September 11th 2013 @ 11:42pm | ! Report

            Ivan , if half our teams are playing in Europe and the other half are playing in super Rugby, how are those not playing super rugby going to learn to play against fast rugby?

          • September 12th 2013 @ 6:20pm
            DilzfromHtown said | September 12th 2013 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

            That’s a stupid idea. Leave it how it is. If it isn’t broken don’t try and fix it

    • September 11th 2013 @ 12:57pm
      Colin said | September 11th 2013 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

      I think and hope they stay DR. I think officials were between a rock and a hard place – politicians on one side & SANZAR partners the other. This Heineken move is potential leverage…

    • September 11th 2013 @ 1:01pm
      Samual Johnson said | September 11th 2013 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      Might be for the best if the South Africans go. It will collapse Super rugby and SANZAR. Maybe Australia can put a couple of sides in the NPC of New Zealand or just go it alone. Everyone will be taking a pay cut of course, as the money will dry right up. Would Fox Sports be interested in paying much for a local rugby competition? The NBL would be more attractive to them, especially in 4 out of the 6 tv markets of Oz.

      Worrying times ahead.

      • Roar Guru

        September 11th 2013 @ 2:33pm
        Colin Kennedy said | September 11th 2013 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

        A bit like the Warriors in the NRL Samual? Instead though, Australian teams in the ITM Cup… Not huge crowds at ITM Cup games, it’s very much a ‘nursery’ for New Zealand rugby.

      • September 12th 2013 @ 9:56pm
        Mike said | September 12th 2013 @ 9:56pm | ! Report

        Samuel, you don’t have a clue.

        The very fact that you ask what Fox Sports would pay shows that you don’t know how the TV market in Australia works.

        If you want to pull out, go ahead.

        • September 12th 2013 @ 11:20pm
          Bebop said | September 12th 2013 @ 11:20pm | ! Report

          Mike,
          With respect, the workings of the Aus TV is not relevant. What is relevant is that SA is a country that is enjoying massive growth in this sport. It’s easy to understand why if you look at our social and economic context. The social context is that we have a potential rugby-watching population of more than 50 million people. That went from 4 million (white saffers) to 50 million post 1994. People can argue about political pressure being bad for the game, but let me tell you the younger black guys who work with me watch rugby and go to games whenever offered the opportunity to do so. Soccer is the most watched sport but we are kak (ask a saffer to translate), and there is nothing more appealing than watching a national team that can win the world cup (and has twice notwithstanding only having been allowed to compete since 1995). Getting the sixth team is good for all three SANZAR nations and here’s why. The Kings, despised as they were even back home before the start of this year’s Super Rugby, attracted big crowds of passionate supporters in a region that is routinely stripped of its best players. And the eastern cape is the historic home of black rugby in SA. Now, you might say, the Kings were not demographically representative, and you’re right. But the fact is SANZAR made more money off ticket sales from Kings home games than they did any year in in the last decade Joburg (and I live in Joburg but hail from Durban so support the Sharks and go to Ellis Park when it’s worth it). Those increased revenues are not kept by SA, but are distributed across SANZAR. SA already generates disproportionately more rugby union revenues for SANZAR than the other two and therefore subsidises the others. But that’s worth it, because of the benefits of playing against the other two – it can’t be a coincidence that we are the top 3 at any point in time (I have no doubt the wallabies will be back with a vengeance and rclaim their spot – recall in 2010 Kurtley Beale’s kick to win on the highveld for the first time in decades? The players are there, they just need to be led. And maybe fix the scrum!) and I agree that we risk slipping a little – not a lot – by not regularly facing the Southern Hemisphere teams. But the point is we do generate the biggest union revenues in the world, and we are growing the game. As support for the game grows across demographics (which is sparked by the presence of players like Siya Kolisi who was a development player and therefore beneiftted from the much-maligned social imperatives in our sport – development rugby would not exist without it), we penetrate that 53 million potential supporters, the game will continue to grow. Bear in mind also that when rugby was just a “white sport”, the player pool was limited to 4m x 50% = 2m people. New Zealand currently has a population of 4,4m and Aus a total population of 23m or so. Apply some assumptions around how many of those actually play and watch union and I would be surprised if you had a potential player pool of anywhere close to the 2m NZ has. I’m sure the stats are available but my aussie mates tell me with grave concern that the trend is not going in the right direction. In SA we have: Super Rugby, the Championship, Currie Cup, Currie Cup First Division, and then we have the Varisty Cup – newly launched and enjoying massive support both on campuses and off, and televised – and a recently launched Cell C Community Cup, to meet the demands of the >900 rugby clubs in SA. This is why we bleed players like Bakkies and Victor to Europe and manage to keep our lineouts sorted. If those two hadn’t retired we would never have seen Etzebeth. (In fact we have ourselves to blame for not bringing our new talent into the fold sooner under our last coach and hanging onto a couple of veterans for a bit too long – we clearly have loads of talent waiting in the wings…)

          So in summary – already contributing substantial revenues to SANZAR and growing number of players, clubs and teams, and supporters, all mean bigger revenues to be redistributed across SANZAR and yes, to underpin Australian rugby because we cannot envisage a world without the wallabies who can snatch a victory from anywhere (like Larkham did to us in 1999). So saying “off you go, we don’t care” is just foolish and self-defeating. NZ rugby can survive, but can Aussie rugby? Not as confident. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement and one we should try preserve, but if we have the numbers it is to SANZAR’s benefit to allow more teams. Bear in mind if Super Rugby folds, SANZAR would probably as well, and the Championship also. So just the Bledisloe then. Enjoy.

          JB – your comment re if we want 6 teams we are hankering after the dark days of apartheid? Get knotted. How is that statement even remotely logical? That’s just an unintelligent insult and I’d say a lot more but this is actually not a bad forum and don’t want the debate to degenerate. Don’t resort to insulting and inflammatory innuendo mate. It’s not cool. We have moved on. Maybe you should too.

          • September 13th 2013 @ 9:13am
            Mike said | September 13th 2013 @ 9:13am | ! Report

            “we are kak (ask a saffer to translate)”

            Just to clarify, I understand a lot more Afrikaans than that. Many many years ago I went out with a mooi afrikaanse meisie. From Durban but one generation off the veldt.

            “With respect, the workings of the Aus TV is not relevant.”

            Yes it is. “Samual” (to whom I replied) was talking about the effect in Australia of a hypothetical failure of Super rugby, not its effect in South Africa.

            “Those increased revenues are not kept by SA, but are distributed across SANZAR. …”

            Yes but that creates tensions of the sort we are seeing here. I appreciate that revenues in super rugby are pooled, but that only works so long as the contributions from each participating nation are reasonably on par. A bit of skewing is workable since NZ and Aus bring interest to the comp in terms of foreign provincial teams that otherwise Saffa fans wouldn’t see, and that translates to extra ticket sales and viewings in SA. But in the end, Australia’s take from super rugby depends on what Australia itself brings to the table, and when we are tied to a medium that over 70% of Australian households never see, it just doesn’t work.

            “So saying “off you go, we don’t care” is just foolish and self-defeating.”

            Its not that we don’t care, its just that there are bigger issues at stake. My belief, as I have outlined and its shared by others, is that Australian rugby is dropping behind the other top nations because of a lack of a national domestic competition, and that super rugby is getting in the way of establishing such a comp, in part because of the way it ties us to Pay TV which in Australia is a minority medium.

            “Bear in mind if Super Rugby folds, SANZAR would probably as well, and the Championship also.”

            Why would the championship fold just because super rugby does? I am not too worried if it does, because I have no doubt it would be immediately replaced with old-style tours, but I don’t see that sort of a connection between SR and RC.

            “So just the Bledisloe then.”

            My God, you really do have a low opinion of Wallabies marketability, don’t you? I know we haven’t been doing well lately, but sheesh… 🙂 Seriously, if the RC disappeared, I don’t think any of the participating nations would have the slightest trouble filling their calendar with tours to and from other nations.

            • September 13th 2013 @ 9:52am
              Dally M said | September 13th 2013 @ 9:52am | ! Report

              The last time there was talk of a split in Super Rugby & the SA teams pulling out, i’m pretty sure the 3 countries had agreed that regardless of the outcome it would not affect the Tr-Nations (at the time) & i suspect this would be the case now as well with the way the international windows work

    • September 11th 2013 @ 1:05pm
      JB said | September 11th 2013 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

      First of all, what is new with 6 South African teams? wasn’t that the format of the Currie Cup during apartheid time when no-one wanted to play them? So if they want to go back to those dark days, good luck to them.
      Second, it is very unlikely South African teams will be welcome in the “European Cup”. The major issue at stake for French and English clubs is a reduction (not an increase) in the numbe rof teams participating to the Heineken Cup. So adding teams from South Africa is not going in the right direction. The trus problem of rugby in Europe and with the IRB is the weight of minor Celtic countries when it comes to sdecision making: The fact that Ireland, Wales and Scotland are able to dictate the rest of the rugby world is not acceptable – Scottish rugby is broke, Welsh rugby is surfing on the back of an exceptional generation but none of its provinces has ever made the final of the Heineken Cup and Ireland has again been able to match English and French clubs just because their provinces do not play any serious games outside the Heineken Cup.
      The iRB is weak that is the real problem and has not moved tot he 21st century yet. Look at the Champions League and the following it has. It will never occur to English and Spanish clubs to boycott such a competition…

      • Roar Guru

        September 11th 2013 @ 2:34pm
        Colin Kennedy said | September 11th 2013 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

        JB, Premiership Rugby said they want to ‘step up’ the quality and they’re open to other countries. Teams from the number 2 ranked team in rugby would do both of those for them.

        • September 11th 2013 @ 4:17pm
          Tissot Time said | September 11th 2013 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

          JB I attended the first HC final in Cardiff between Cardiff and Toulouse.

          • September 12th 2013 @ 9:10am
            JB said | September 12th 2013 @ 9:10am | ! Report

            Maybe but remember that the English clubs did not take part in the first European Cup so the value is limited.

            • October 14th 2013 @ 10:30pm
              Graeme Anderson said | October 14th 2013 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

              I agree with JB in terms of the English and French being reluctant as the whole point of the breakaway is that they get more qualification places and top Irish and Welsh teams can’t field weakened teams in the Pro12 to save for Heineken Cup matches as they risk not qualifying for the next tournament.

              However as has been stated there is a potential viewing market in South Africa of 50 million on a similar time zone to Europe. One would think that the tv deal that could be attracted with SA teams in would provide a massive boost to English and French teams in the competition.

              So it may be a case of extra competition spots vs extra money for the Anglo-French teams.

              As for Super Rugby. The mess of expansion makes it difficult to resolve. I don’t think Argentina, Pacific or Japanese are good enough for the competition and it should be Super 16 only playing each team once.

        • September 12th 2013 @ 9:13am
          JB said | September 12th 2013 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          Rather than helping a non-European nation, they should focus more on cementing the rugby in countries like Italy, Romania, Russia, Spain, Portugal. After all, we are talking of the European Cup no the World Regional challenge….

    • September 11th 2013 @ 1:07pm
      Johnno said | September 11th 2013 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

      It could happen, but one sticking point. Will South Africa move rugby to a summer sport at the pro level if it heads to the NH. Season will go from August-May. So October-Feb will be rugby in South Africa. I don;t know how hot South Africa gets at it’s rugby hotspots.
      Cape Town is pleasant, matches would have to be at night, or late afternoon 5pm-8pm. I don;t know if SA wants to switch there season.
      But the NH timezones, and closer location is more suited to Europe.
      And as for South Africa being the kindergarten of world rugby, playing weaker teams, hello.
      England/France are better than the wallabies and have far more depth than aussy rugby. Italy is as good as Argentina, and is rapidly closing the gap vs the wallabies, Wallabies only just beat Italy by 3 points in Italy, and Italy beat France/Ireland this year who have had the wood on Australia the last few years. And Wales/Lions spanked the wallabies.
      It’s hardly a put down playing weaker nations England/France better than Australia.
      And England RWC under-20’s won the under-20 world cup this year, Australia along way from winning it.
      And massive money being spent on junior rugby in England as part of the RWC long term strategic development.
      Wallabies are a waste of south africa’s time, you saw what happened on the weekend. And the Force/Rebels, please.

      • Roar Guru

        September 11th 2013 @ 2:36pm
        Colin Kennedy said | September 11th 2013 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

        No Johnno, the Wallabies will be back :-). I don’t see anybody else dominating the top three rankings other than the ABs, Boks and Wallabies, and the Brumbies were real stars – they could win next year.

        • September 11th 2013 @ 2:48pm
          Johnno said | September 11th 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

          Colin your underestimating France/England, a bit of contempt and italy and Argentina much bigger population and rugby expansion. Wallabies are the whipping boys of rugby now, know one takes them seriously anymore.

        • September 11th 2013 @ 5:19pm
          dwayne_board said | September 11th 2013 @ 5:19pm | ! Report

          England and Wales will both stay ahead of the Wallabies in the pecking order for quite a while now – maybe you should wait for the Autumn tours before pinning your colours to the mast!

          • September 11th 2013 @ 5:33pm
            IvanN said | September 11th 2013 @ 5:33pm | ! Report

            I actually agree with some of that… England,Wales,Ireland and France could all overtake the Wallabies soon. And based on the u/20 WC id say that its Eng,Wales,SA and NZ that are going to dominate the rankings. Australia dont have the depth right now to put out a competitive pack, new scrum laws have really exposed them.

      • September 11th 2013 @ 10:22pm
        Itsbecomeajoke said | September 11th 2013 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

        Not to mention that the English and French club teams are full of SA, AUS, NZ and PI players

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