SANZAAR, formerly SANZAAR, is the collective representative body of the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions.
The organisation governs Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship, with TV rights for both competitions collectively pooled for both competitions.
The original SANZAAR was effectively the same organisation with Argentina excluded and The Rugby Championship’s predecessor, Tri-Nations, still in place. It came about in 1995 following the introduction of professionalism for rugby union; ousting World Rugby Corporation to establish the Super 12 tournament.
The argument for the organisation at the time was to provide the southern hemisphere’s three largest unions with adequate control of players and consistently high level of competition. Plus the benefits of collectively bargaining for TV rights was a lovely bonus to the whole thing.
The question now is, has SANZAAR become defunct? Have the unions lost control of the players? Does competition remain of a high enough quality? Is the money worth it?
The answer to the last one remains yes. The money brought in from South African TV provides significant funds to all unions and this is unlikely to be generated if they left. But what if they do leave.
SA rugby already has two franchises competing in the Pro14 competition; and rumours remain that at least another two teams could potentially join the tournament given its preferable time zones.
If that happened that could leave just two South African teams in Super Rugby, the question would come about which teams should these be and is it worth it?
I could easily see SA rugby deciding that the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and Lions would all be better off playing in a northern hemisphere competition and the Cheetahs and Kings returning to Super Rugby.
This would not sustain the level of competition for New Zealand and Australian teams.
Look away now Mr Pichot, but maybe New Zealand and Australia need to abandon Argentina and focus closer to home for adequate competition.
It has long been the preference of some that Australia and New Zealand teams compete in a Trans-Tasman competition, with preferable kick-off times (no late night/early morning kickoffs) and reduced travel for players.
An easy traditional league format would also be more customer friendly to fans than the convoluted conference system that sees the poor teams in poor pools rewarded with home knock-out rugby ties.
From an Australian perspective, it could lead to the re-introduction of the Western Australia Force to regular rugby re-establishing the national elite footprint. I would then look to go one step further and have teams from Tonga, Fiji and Samoa in the competition in some form (maybe one each, two combined or a Pacific Warriors team).
Realistically this comes down to money. Or rather a lack of it. There would be a loss of TV income for the new competition. However, I feel this would be short term and offset against a crowd/fan buy-in that could be gained from real intense rivalries.
Also, you just have to look at the attendance at all Drua games in the NRC to see the impact the Pacific community can have on atmosphere if they have a team to back.
Another way to address money issues would be to invite some private funding. Each rugby union should retain a 51 per cent share of its respective franchises, keep control; and competition rules should outline that teams are financially rewarded for having a significant percentage of match day squads eligible for their respective nations. For instance, the Waratahs need to have at least 80 per cent Australian eligibility throughout the season to then get an extra portion of funds from Rugby Australia.
This currently operates in the English Premiership with clubs provided with financial incentives to sustain an eligibility rate of 75 per cent in all match day squads across the season (regardless of competition).
Private funding could support the elite side of the game, particularly in Australia and the Pacific Islands, allowing a larger proportion of funds to be channelled towards the community game. Growing those grassroots and developing rugby union activity in non-traditional markets, i.e. state schools and traditional AFL/league hotspots.
It would also help retain or bring back players currently oversees due to longer term financial benefits.
Unions would also have greater control over where players play. If the Reds had a significant number of equally high quality wingers but the Force had none then RA could actively encourage these players to move, much in the way the IRU influences its provinces.
Anyway, back to the tournament. I would propose a 14-team tournament as below:
|Pool A||Pool B|
|Fiji reps||Samoa reps|
|Tonga reps||Japan reps|
My proposed league would include a team from Japan, potentially the Sunwolves but preferably a predominantly Japanese team; and follow the Pro14 format. Each team would play the others at least once and then play derby matches on top of this.
The Waratahs, in this case, would play 13 normal matches; and a further four matches against the other Australian teams, meaning that there would be 17 fixtures minimum.
For the Pacific rep teams, playing “derbies” would only provide 16 matches so then I would suggest that Fiji play Samoa at a neutral venue (Aus or NZ) and Tonga play Japan (again at a neutral venue).
Although not an ideal format, it does reduce the amount of time players would be away from home and does retain some competition. The Kiwis would not doubt say that the quality of competition would not be high enough but just look at Super Rugby at present to see that the level of competition, at best, is inconsistent.
Rugby Australia and the New Zealand Rugby Union need to take a longer-term look. They need to see the dwindling attendances at Super Rugby.
They need to recognise the contribution that the Pacific Island communities make to not only the sport but the wider national community and harness this. Short term pain could be worth it for long term gain. Neither will know until they try.