The most important international rugby tournaments do not take more than seven Test matches to complete.
The Rugby World Cup requires seven matches to win, the Rugby Championship requires six matches for completion and the Six Nations requires five matches.
The goal as I understand it was for Super Rugby to provide two things. Firstly, a platform for professionalism and secondly a tournament for South Africa, New Zealand and Australia’s rugby players to prepare for Test match rugby.
What has become of Super Rugby is a multi-time zoned, five continent, high-cost, travel-weary tournament that has effectively negated the importance of domestic development in these countries.
The Currie Cup and Mitre 10 Cup are seen as nothing else but grassroots low-profile tournaments being rushed into a time slot leftover after Super Rugby and Test rugby have taken their slices out of a 52-week season.
To add to the uninspiring expansions and restructures over the past decade Super Rugby has lost its fans, popularity is at an all-time low and interest has dwindled.
Sure, the impressive performances of the New Zealand franchises may very well have played a big role in the popularity falling away like glaciers in a global warming documentary.
It seems to me that the interdependence between the participating nations of Super Rugby has grown like a fungus in an overgrown forest with no one wise or energetic enough to control their enthusiasm and desire to grow the competition without considering what is best for southern hemisphere rugby.
Seldom do organisations get the opportunity to simply just take a breather and ponder over what has happened during preceding years and then take stock of what worked and what didn’t.
This is the time for honesty and reflection.
Less is more, and too much of a good thing becomes repetitive and monotonous. Most importantly, familiarity breeds contempt.
Let’s face some truths; Super Rugby has not stopped the exodus of our players to the clubs of milk and honey, considering that the New Zealand rugby union, SRugby AU and Rugby AU regularly have players on various “sabbaticals” tells you that the Super Rugby season is too demanding and too long.
You don’t need 18 weeks of competition at Super Rugby level to prepare for international duty. Many rugby supporters feel the time zones are not beneficial to them watching games that are played outside their “prime time viewing” slots.
The supposed increase of revenue with more teams have proportionately increased cost and player fatigue.
What is the solution, you ask?
Well in my very humble opinion, it must be kept simple.
Focusing on regenerating domestic competitions in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina should be priority one.
Whether each nation has four, six or 14 teams does not matter, as long as it creates a platform where talent can be nurtured, identified and harvested.
Super Rugby needs to be super. I don’t give two hoots about “yeah but we have enough talent for five franchises” or “we need more games because it brings in more revenue”
Firstly, if SANZAAR really wants to use Super Rugby as a preparation tool for Test rugby then the Francises should be liquidated and a new drafting format put in place to select the top players from domestic rugby tournaments.
I will use South Africa as an example.
Six teams (Sharks, Lions, Western Province, Bulls, Eastern Province, Cheetahs) to compete in a double round-robin, with semi-finals and a final (total of 12 weeks)
Then a draft whereby three teams are selected (three squads of 31 players) to compete in a single round-robin tournament versus three Australian squads and three New Zealand squads in an eight-week tournament.
That, in my view, will be the highest quality provincial/club competition in the world. Eight weeks of high-intensity almost Test rugby-quality play.
That will provide each nation with their 93 best players prepared and ready for Test rugby without the fatigue and muscle attrition.
The Rugby Championship should consider growing to eight teams though. Consider this. The Pacific Nations cup annually pits what most would consider as the next-best teams in the southern hemisphere against each other. If SANZAAR was considering to expand the Rugby Championship, who would they approach first?
Japan is the obvious answer. If you brought Japan in the tournament would have to play a double round-robin, which would mean eight weeks plus byes making it at least a ten-week tournament. If you make it a single round-robin the tournament would be too short.
However, if you add Fiji, Tonga and Samoa as well, expanding to eight teams, you could forever change the basis of rugby in the southern hemisphere.
To reduce travel cost, bye weeks and so on, the southern hemisphere championship is now hosted by a country. In an eight-year cycle there are two World Cup years, in those years you don’t play the southern hemisphere championship, you have warm-up Test series between the eight nations.
On a rotational basis Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and South Africa host the tournament, the sixth hosting in the cycle goes to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa as a collective sharing the hosting rights.
Revenue sharing can be discussed on what would be deemed fair and equitable to all parties.
My thoughts on the southern hemisphere championship is not cast in stone, however, wouldn’t it be something if we could secure a financial future for those talented lot in the Pacific?