In the second part of this two-article series I propose a Super Rugby model that deals with the issues raised in my first article.
As outlined in the first article, this model is based on the following assumptions: that all SANZAAR members and Japan wish to participate, that South Africa wishes to retain all six teams, that Australia will retain all five teams and that Culling or merging teams is not the answer.
I originally came up with this format when Super 18 was splitting up. However, this will still apply to a Super Rugby competition in 2022 if the current and unsure rugby landscape is only a 2021 anomaly.
Some ground rules first: the proposed Super 14 for 2021 would have each team playing 13 regular-season games, with the original SANZAAR teams playing four to five games overseas and Argentina playing between six and seven abroad. This should be the target amount of regular-season games and travel should be less than or equal to this number.
In its current format Super Rugby has 16 regular-season games and up to three finals games. Because of this, teams are limited to 19 games.
The season starts with two international competitions each comprising nine teams that play each other once. Of each team’s eight regular-season games, four are home and four are away, with the top four going to the finals for potentially two more games, making a potential total of ten games.
The competitions themselves would Super Rugby consisting of the Japanese national team, the Jaguares, the top three South African teams, the top two Australian teams and the top two New Zealand teams from the previous year’s domestic competitions. The bottom three teams from the original SANZAAR nations will compete for the SANZAAR Shield (we can find a better name later).
The competitions will run parallel. A week after the final the domestic seasons will commence for the southern hemisphere teams to decide the national champions and who will play in the following season’s Super Rugby and SANZAAR Shield competitions. Japan will have their off-season, as they would have completed the Top League and competed in Super Rugby wo will need time off before the July internationals.
The Japanese nation team was chosen for its quality and to ease tension between the JRU and Top League club owners. The Japanese defeated both Scotland and Ireland in last year’s World Cup and would be one of the favourites for this competition.
The Top League clubs didn’t want their players risking injury for the Sunwolves and felt their presence would relegate a growing Top League to a lower status. But this competition is half the length, so the risk of injury is reduced, and they are still the primary competition behind the national team.
Also, the Japanese have struggled to get a regular quality competition up and running, so they should relish playing against teams like the Brumbies, Jaguares, Hurricanes, Sharks and Crusaders, who could beat most national teams. They will also have the opportunity trial new combinations for upcoming Test matches. They can choose to call the team the Sunwolves if they like, but the practice should be the same.
Starting with the international season in the southern hemisphere may seem backwards, but it is important for many reasons. Scheduling is easier when teams know where they have to travel before the season starts.
For the fans, Super Rugby starts the season strongly, with wall-to-wall quality games to decide the champions. More importantly, fans of teams in the second division get to see what their team has been doing in the off-season. There’ll be a feeling of hope.
The previous conference system left some fans feeling cheated, but there was nothing that could be done. Fans of these teams can channel that emotion and support a team with the hunger to prove they belong among the best by winning the SANZAAR Shield.
In the domestic season they can earn their spot in Super Rugby. Teams at the lower end of the season can develop their sides while suffering fewer beltings.
The domestic season will be different in each country as they each have different requirements. South Africa has six teams – if they all play each other once with the top two going to the finals, that would be five regular-season matches and one final for a total of 13 regular-season games and three finals games, the same as Super 14.
However I think the best option would be to include the Jaguares in this competition. This would bring the total up to 14 regular-season games and three finals matches, with regular-season travel being three to four overseas games for South African teams, the least amount of travel since Super 12.
The Jaguares would play seven games at home and seven away, in line with both current and Super 14 levels of travel.
Aotearoa is often criticised for resting players for their welfare during Super Rugby. It would make sense for them to play a short competition. If they play each other once domestically and have the top two go to the final and the next year’s Super Rugby, that would result in 12 regular-season and three finals matches and three to four overseas games. If this format proved too short, the occasional north-south match could be played, but these should be kept to a minimum.
Australia requires more content to compete with rival football codes and to create a sporting narrative. The Australian teams should play each other twice, with the top two teams going to the final and the following year’s Super Rugby competition. This results in 16 regular-season matches and three finals matches, which is the same as the 2019 Super Rugby model and right on the limit.
Following this format requires the Australian teams to play only three to four overseas games, the least they’ve ever had to travel.
Playing the domestic season second puts more importance on the results as it decides where they play next year as well as ending the domestic season with genuine national champions. This should result in some positivity among the fans and local media leading into the Test season.
Hopefully this structure will provide the teams and fans with what they’ve been wanting: the best elite competition in the world and the toughest development competition, both requiring teams to travel and play other teams with players of Test experience, and finishing off the domestic season with meaningful domestic championships.
I understand the rugby landscape is unsettled at the moment, but I wanted to show what could be achieved with what we have and with some cooperation in 2022.