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Opinion

My fearless predictions for rugby in 2022 and beyond

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Roar Rookie
6th June, 2020
50
2265 Reads

While not necessarily my preference, this is my prediction of what I think the rugby landscape will look like from 2022 onwards.

My purpose is to record it here so that I can revisit it in the future to see how close or how embarrassingly far I was from reality. A bit of speculation of course, but it’s all in good fun!

A new global Test calendar
My prediction is that we will have a new global season as early as 2022. Here’s why it will happen: the stakeholders will take advantage of the current sense of change in the air, and make plans to move the July in-bound Tests to October so as to be directly followed by the November European tours.

The new October-November Test window will form part of a new Nations Championship to be played biannually in the years between the World Cup and a Lions Tour (see below), adding significant value to both the in-bound internationals and European tours.

The European clubs will be on board with this change because it will allow for two clear windows for both Test rugby and club rugby without the current three-Test windows and the interruption of Test rugby to club rugby, and vice versa.

Along with this, SANZAAR will move the Rugby Championship to be played in March-April, and the Six Nations will accommodate this by shifting to run during the same window in parallel.

Justin Tipuric in action for Wales

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Here’s why it will happen: with the uncertainty surrounding the South African and Argentinian teams in Super Rugby, along with the fear of losing the Rugby Championship’s financially viability due to significantly weakened teams, SANZAAR will move the Rugby Championship to enable South Africa and Argentina (and possibly Australia) to have access to their overseas-based players while European club rugby is in recess, and provide full-strength teams as a result. It will also enable the addition of a full-strength Fijian team to the Rugby Championship as well as Japan, increasing the number of teams to six.

Further to this, moving the Rugby Championship will mean it can avoid any potential clashes with the World Cup or a Lions Tour in future years. Thus, the financial benefits of moving the Rugby Championship will be too much to forgo.

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The Six Nations and Rugby Championship will each be a single round robin run over six weeks from March to mid-April, with a one-week midway break.

The new Nations Championship will be based on points gained from the two Test windows in March-April and October-November. The Rugby Championship and the Six Nations, along with the in-bounds and European tours, will allow each of the 12 teams involved to play every other team once during a single year for an overall winner based on points.

So, for example, in a Nations Championship year, New Zealand would play the other five Rugby Championship teams in March-April, three of the Six Nations teams at home in October, and then play the other three Six Nations teams away in November. Or, for example, England would play the other Six Nations teams in March-April, three of the Rugby Championship teams away in October, and the other three Rugby Championship teams at home in November.

Beauden Barrett in action for the All Blacks against New Zealand

(Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

The extra revenue gained from the Nations Championship will allow teams to play one less Test in November that year than they do currently.

Importantly, only playing the Nations Championship biannually means that every other year there can still be Tests against emerging nations, October in-bound tours, and Grand Slam attempts in November.

At the same time, however, playing the Nations Championship biannually will mean that there is a significant revenue-earning tournament each year on a four year cycle. Year 1, Nations Championship. Year 2, World Cup. Year 3, Nations Championship. Year 4, Lions Tour. Repeat.

Anzac Day Bledisloe Cup
Australia and New Zealand will also play an extra Bledisloe Cup fixture outside the Rugby Championship each year on April 25. This will soon be the preeminent Anzac sporting fixture each year.

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The Mitre 10 Cup and the NRC
New Zealand and Australia will underpin the Rugby Championship with their national domestic competitions as they do currently. The NRC will run from late February to late April. The final of the NRC will be played on a stand-alone weekend between the end of the Rugby Championship and the Anzac Day Bledisloe Cup game. The Mitre 10 Cup will have an extra week than it does currently, and run from late February to early May.

The future of Super Rugby
With the Rugby Championship in March-April, and the new Test window in October-November, it will leave a window from May to September for whatever replaces Super Rugby.

And this is my prediction: with the ongoing risk of Super Rugby being shut down again in 2021, along with the increasing cost of international travel, Super Rugby will be domestic-based again next year.

New Zealand and South Africa will renegotiate their broadcast deals. They will affirm that the only realistic way for New Zealand and South African teams to continue playing each other in the future would be in some form of finals system or Champions League following a domestic Super Rugby competition.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the South African teams will stick around for this. While the South African Rugby Union will remain part of SANZAAR for the Rugby Championship, I predict South Africa’s Super Rugby teams will join the Pro14 due to time-zone advantages and financial incentives, and they will be welcomed with open arms by the Pro14 organisers.

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I have no idea what will become of the Jaguares, although there may be an opportunity for their players in Japan’s new professional domestic competition (see below).

So what will New Zealand and Australia do from May to September? I predict New Zealand fans will absolutely love Super Rugby Aotearoa this year and find it hard to give it up. They may offer Australia the opportunity to enter two or three teams in a Trans-Tasman competition, but they won’t risk diluting their competition with any more teams than that from Australia.

Mitchell Drummond runs the ball

(AAP Image/Chris Symes)

Rugby Australia however, won’t accept this offer because it simply won’t engage Australian rugby fans, with too few games in prime-time viewing slots each weekend. On top of this, Rugby Australia won’t risk the fall-out again from favouring one Super Rugby team over another, especially having just enjoyed Super Rugby AU.

Australia might attempt to offer all five of their teams with the promise of concentrating their talent into three of those teams and opening up the other two to a significant amount of overseas players from places such as Argentina and the Pacific Islands. However, since there is no way to be sure these players will make themselves available, New Zealand won’t take that risk. Instead, New Zealand and Australia will agree to play their own domestic Super Rugby competitions with a Champions League following on from this.

There will be no strict requirement on how many teams each domestic competition can have. Each country will simply be expected to look after their own backyard and provide a format that works best for them.

In doing so, both New Zealand and Australia will look to increase the amount of teams in their respective domestic Super Rugby competitions, since having at least six teams would allow for three games across each weekend in prime-time viewing slots.

Better still, having seven teams would provide the extra content needed and also allow for two automatic byes for each team, keeping players fresh and rested throughout the year. Having seven teams in domestic Super Rugby would also guarantee each team gets six home games and six away games each year.

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Any more than seven teams, however, would be a step too far at this stage. Therefore, I predict that both New Zealand and Australia will attempt to add two new teams to their respective domestic competitions.

They will seek to do this by adding a combination of Asian-based and Pacific Island teams, and possibly even another New Zealand team. However, I don’t expect to see any new Australian teams at this stage.

Noah Lolesio of the Brumbies during the round one Super Rugby match

(Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

The format for Super Rugby Aotearoa will be a home-and-away season played over 14 weeks including two automatic byes for each team. This will be an ideal fit with the extra week provided for the Mitre 10 Cup. Super Rugby AU will follow the same format but include an extra two weeks of finals. This will also be an ideal fit with the fewer weeks needed for the NRC.

The top two teams from each competition will qualify for a Champions League to follow.

But that’s not all! Japan will move their new professional competition to be in line with New Zealand and Australia. Their teams will be open to a certain number of overseas players to increase depth. This may be where several of the Argentinian players end up. And the top two Japanese teams will also qualify for the Champions League.

While each domestic competition will be free to have a format and number of teams that work best for them, they will be required to have their top two teams ready to enter a five-week Champions League, with the final to be played two weeks before the October in-bound internationals. This will usually be the last Saturday in September each year.

The format for the Champions League will be as follows: each of the six teams will play all the other teams except the team from their own domestic competition for four games each. In doing so, each team will have two home games and two away games.

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The two home games will be against one each from the other two domestic competitions. And the two away games will likewise be against one each from the other two domestic competitions. At the end of the four games each, the top two teams on points will play a final at the home of the top team on points.

This is how it would work.

Week 1
Australia 1 versus New Zealand 1
Australia 2 versus Japan 1
New Zealand 2 versus Japan 2

Week 2
Australia 1 versus Japan 2
New Zealand 1 versus Australia 2
Japan 1 versus New Zealand 2

Week 3
New Zealand 2 versus Australia 1
Japan 2 versus Australia 2
New Zealand 1 versus Japan 2

Week 4
Japan 1 versus Australia 1
Australia 2 versus New Zealand 2
Japan 2 versus New Zealand 1

Week 5
Final between the top two teams.

Club rugby
Club rugby in New Zealand and Australia will underpin Super Rugby as it does currently. It will follow on from the end of the Mitre 10 Cup and NRC respectively, and run in the period from May to September.

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The Sydney clubs will be onboard with this because of the possibility of having a national club championship after Super Rugby AU in October, involving the top eight (or even 16!) teams from the main club competitions across Australia playing in a knock-out format to determine the winner.

A more radical national club championship idea will be to have an FA Cup style knock-out competition open to any eligible club across Australia to be run during October-November when all the non-Test Super Rugby AU players will be available to return to their clubs.

Sydney Uni Shute Shield

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The 2022 rugby calendar for New Zealand and Australia
Thus, this is what I predict the 2022 rugby calendar will look like for New Zealand and Australia.

Firstly, the view from New Zealand:

February 19 to May 7: Mitre 10 Cup
March 6 to April 9: The Rugby Championship (Nations Championship)
April 25: Bledisloe Cup
May 20 to August 20: Super Rugby Aotearoa
August 27 to September 24: Super Rugby Champions League
October 8 to 22: In-bound internationals (Nations Championship)
November 9 to 23: European Tour (Nations Championship)

Notice that there is a week off between the final of the Mitre 10 Cup and the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa. This is to give players a quick rest and a chance to celebrate their win. However, notice that the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa runs seamlessly into the Champions League without a break in between. This reflects the fact that Super Rugby Aotearoa already includes two automatic byes for each team and no finals.

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Next, the view from Australia:

February 19 to April 16: NRC
March 6 to April 9: The Rugby Championship (Nations Championship)
April 25: Bledisloe Cup
April 29 to August 13: Super Rugby AU
August 27 to September 24: Super Rugby Champions League
October to November: National Club Championship
October 8 to 22: In-bound internationals (Nations Championship)
November 9 to 23: European Tour (Nations Championship)

Like in New Zealand, notice there is a week off between the NRC and the start of Super Rugby AU to give players a quick rest and a chance to celebrate their win. But also notice there is a week off between the end of Super Rugby AU and the Champions League. This is to account for the extra two weeks of finals for Super Rugby AU and provide a short recovery before the Champions League.

And there you have it. Let me know what your prediction is (as opposed to your preference) in the comments.

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