There are two burning questions that need to be addressed for Australian rugby to move forward.
1. How to move professional rugby ahead effectively with the current broadcast arrangement?
The current Super Rugby format is unworkable, confusing and unsustainable. However, this lemon of a structure was sold to broadcasters for a five-year deal.
So how can we tweak what we have to be more palatable until 2020?
Easy, we scrap the four-conference system in favour of a three-conference system:
1. South Africa teams
2. Australia plus Japan
3. New Zealand plus Argentina
Each team plays everyone in their conference home and away. They then play three teams from each of the other two conferences, rotating every two years.
The finals would be a top eight, with each conference champion and runner up getting automatic spots, and the remaining two spots to the highest placed teams on a combined Super Rugby ladder.
I understand not every team plays each other and that’s not ideal, but this is the best of a bad situation.
I also understand that the New Zealand teams and fans will rightly cry foul and say that this final system undermines their prospects, but no matter what is put infront of Kiwi teams, they will find a way to win it all.
This conference would go a long way to rebuilding the rugby faithful of Australia, while also giving the other partners distinct benefits they will help them progress.
And while trying to placate a five-headed monster of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Japan with one solution is nigh-on impossible, we have to do our best.
2. What to do after the current broadcast deal ends?
This is where bold leadership is required.
When a new broadcast deal is struck, the broadcasters want more content. If we can strike a balance between a free-to-air network and Foxtel, then rugby can again begin to grow.
I see an easy enough solution to this ‘more content’ issue, while giving each of the SANZAAR partners some autonomy.
Instead of trying to over-expand and complicate Super Rugby, it is time to simplify.
Each of the four SANZAAR nations should play their own national championship.
Although not every Aussie rugby supporter likes the NRC, they would surely concede that unless we have our own national competition, we are doomed to become insignificant, and freefall down the world rankings.
The NRC still needs a little rejigging. My teams would be North Brisbane, South Brisbane, North Harbour, South Harbour, Western Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. I know Queensland and NSW country supporters will be screaming bloody murder, but these teams have no home base for regular games. However, I would take one home game each year from the two Queensland sides and the three NSW sides to the country to help ease the loss.
Playing each other home and away gives us a 14-week competition, with two weeks of finals, plus the Horan-Little Shield.
Each SANZAAR union would run its own national championship and finals series as they see fit. The only stipulation on each of the competitions is that it must contain at least eight teams, meaning a minimum of 16 games per week across four different time zones.
Now comes the interesting part: Super Rugby but with a twist.
Super Rugby to be split into four competitions: Super Rugby Cup, Super Rugby Plate, Super Rugby Bowl and Super Rugby Shield a la sevens rugby.
The top two teams from each of the NPC, Currie Cup, NRC and Nacional de Clubes qualify for the Super Rugby Cup (SRC), three and four qualify for the Super Rugby Plate (SRP), five and six qualify for the Super Rugby Bowl (SRB) and seven and eight qualify for the Super Rugby Shield (SRS).
So each of the competitions has two teams from each of the SANZAAR national competitions.
This way, each country can host a championship on a rotational basis:
2021 – Australia host the SRC, SA the SRP, New Zealand the SRB, and Argentina the SRS
2022 – Australia host the SRS, SA the SRC, New Zealand the SRP, and Argentina the SRB
2023 – Australia host SRB, SA the SRS, New Zealand the SRC, and Argentina the SRP
2024 – Australia host the SRP, SA the SRB, New Zealand the SRS, and Argentina the SRC
This way, every SANZAAR nation hosts a multinational championship every year, all SANZAAR nations have four chances at some silverware, all players only travel to the host nation and stay for the duration, and broadcasters have four ‘best of the best’ championships over four time zones.
Obviously, these tournaments will be followed by inbound tours, the Rugby Championship and outbound tours.
That’s my vision anyway, what do you think Roarers?