The Roar
The Roar


Open letter to ARU CEO Bill Pulver (pt two): nationalise Super Rugby

Roar Guru
20th May, 2013
1055 Reads

The second chapter of this somewhat slow-burning series has arrived, and with an apparently meagre theme, hardly justifying large-scale treatment.

But while the subject might seem a triviality, it is a dainty alteration to the body of Super rugby that nonetheless aims to effect a strikingly transformative impression.

A leitmotif of this series has been proposals that cost the ARU nothing whatsoever, and this will be no different: it will instead create revenue.

The concept is to remake Super rugby as a union of three national competitions by the single and unfussy addition of a semi-final and final within each conference. This means two weeks more rugby.

Two weeks are easily obtained. South Africa can shunt along their Currie Cup, and New Zealand’s objections elsewhere can be gently overcome, for the change would be very much in their interest too.

The problem strikes at the heart of Super Rugby’s uncertain appeal. It has never yet managed quite to draw in supporters in the way that national competitions do, however attractive the variety and scale it brings.

This has meant an unnecessary loss of fans, revenue, and status.

Competitions such as the NPC, Currie Cup and hypothetical Australian national competition would never alter this, as whatever their charms and practical benefits, they are effectively lesser-tier sideshows.


Nor would integrating national tournaments within Super Rugby replace the third tier competitions – it would be a separate operation altogether.

Super Rugby will not be abandoned as a format, despite its flaws. It will rather be modified in order to remove these weaknesses, and this will take extensive restructuring.

The increase in the number of derbies has remedied this to some degree, as would further teams to involve a deeper picture within each country.

But nonetheless the fact remains that the final prize is the achievement of an international, rather than national, goal.

In one fell swoop a semi-final and final equate to three separate national competitions taking place within the larger international structure.

There would need to be no change whatsoever in the set-up of the competition. Three separate tables would be drawn from the derby matches, and the four finals taken from these.

Everything else could remain as it is.


The benefits are legion.

Australia and New Zealand are in weak financial positions, always lying on the brink of an abyss, while South Africa cannot afford to keep important players onshore.

The two semi-finals and final would rake in vast television audiences and full houses, generating crucial extra revenue.

At present the season becomes meaningless relatively early on for many teams, while with an intra-conference finals series they would have something to play for until far later. A further attraction for supporters.

Given the financial weakness of many of the participating countries, the season should be expanded beyond the two weeks proposed here anyway. More product for the broadcasters means more money from the TV deal.

This is why SANZAR received a 17% increase with Super Rugby’s expansion in 2011. More matches, more product. The game is losing its players, falling behind its competitors, flirting with financial doom.

It needs more money, and among other things that means a longer season.


An objection might be raised that players have a high enough workload already, and cannot sustain extra weeks.

So how will these players deal with an increased workload? The first question to ask in response is: who are these players? Because those in question are most certainly not the majority of Super Rugby players.

These are in fact only around 30 of the 150-odd Super Rugby players in each country who have to continue to a full international season after Super Rugby (proportionately fewer with any expansion and a larger number of teams).

Good rotation of international players, as exemplified at the Brumbies, would be the obvious way around this problem. However not all franchises will voluntarily withdraw their best players from matches.

So they must be obliged to. At the beginning of the season the national coach can name 30 players who must be rested for a certain number of games each season; something like four games, maybe one or two more.

It would be up to the Super coaches which matches they choose to rest the players for, but they probably would opt for those against the weakest opponents. This would allow international players to last for both an extended domestic and international season.

It might not be ideal, but rotation and resting should take place in long seasons anyway, and the financial need is too great. Besides, the same rules would apply to all franchises, evening things out.


Of course there are other expedients to attempt to stem the terrible economic woes endured by SANZAR, and the disastrous hemorrhaging of players to Europe. This is a simple one that solves other issues at the same time, and not only costs nothing itself but would create more money.

Nor would the national finals compete with the international finals series. It would take place earlier, perhaps with the derbies concentrated more in the first half of the season to lead up to a national final taking place a fair interval before the international final.

Two trophies to aim for is also enticing for all the teams concerned. It gives them more of a chance to win something each year than the very rarely-won international Super title.

Some teams might never win the international title, but could somehow take a national trophy.

Obviously the more teams there are in each conference, the better such a finals series would be. But for many other reasons there should be more teams.

Supporters would be extremely keen to see national semi-finals and finals.

There can be a greater scale of achievement with a ‘double’, and a more interesting range of aims.


There are of course, two chances rather than one each year to win a trophy.

And all this, for two weeks more rugby.