Super Rugby restructure Encouraging but not Convincing

Super Rugby restructure
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The recently announced Super Rugby restructure is encouraging but, not convincing. SANZAAR want to be innovation leaders if not product leaders. Yet its negative publicity has reduced public engagement.

The update to the competition has been generally well received but, their history for making ‘change for change’s sake’ is a concern.

Managing Editor Ryan Jordan looks closely at the reasons why, questions for and against, and what the future might hold once this change begins. We suggest that you look into the betting sites as well to see how the Super Rugby restructure affect the teams next season. Click here to see the latest odds and predictions in the coming months.

Super Rugby Restructure

We looked at some of the history of the tournament. This is not intended as a definitive history, but rather a look at how Super Rugby has evolved, continues to evolve and yet, continues to confuse and frustrate fans.

Successful early years

Super Rugby’s early years were based in the innocent days prior to professionalism and the years immediately after the start of the professional era. Teams from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa would qualify for the following year’s Super Rugby competition by their final placing in their domestic competition.

For those who cannot claim to be part of the younger generation, the pride of your local team qualifying for the big regional competition and doing well in it, lasted a full year.  The price of failure in domestic competition was heavy. Your team simply wasn’t in Super Rugby the following year. Some seriously talented international players were doing household chores on a Saturday and not playing in Super Rugby.

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Franchise system; the need for Uniformity

As the competition developed, it became a franchise based tournament. Gone were the individual provinces competing for places in the following year’s Super Rugby tournament. It became the home of the same teams year in and year out. It lost the freshness of a new team qualifying, engaging a new group of fans. Having said this, it was at this stage that Super Rugby was at its most popular.

There were 14 teams playing each other on a biennial home and away basis. No confusing conference system, wildcards or advantages of playing the bulk of your games against either the stronger or weaker conference.

A need for inclusivity

With the qualifying element of the competition a thing of the past, Australia and South Africa faced their own unique problems. South Africa had more competitive teams than spots available in the competition. The abomination that was the Cats – a combination of the Cheetahs and Lions – was unpopular and impractical.

Then there was the prickly pear called the Kings. Australia wanted to have a Super Rugby team in Western Australia. SANZAR complied to make everyone happy and the era of expansion continued.

What were you thinking Super Rugby

Some had to ask the question ‘what are we doing Brain?’ It seemed like the answer from SANZAR was ‘taking over the world Pinky!’

That may have been what SANZAR was thinking when they decided to expand Super Rugby into Argentina and Japan. Was it necessary? Was this a SANZAR responsibility? (or should World Rugby have taken more responsibility in developing especially the Asian market).

The year was 2016. Immediately after a Rugby World Cup, it was a new phase. SANZAR became SANZAAR [inclusive of Argentina in The Rugby Championship]. It was all bright and shiny, some were impressed…..while many, many fans were a little confused.

Have the Jaguares and the Sunwolves really added that much? (to make the cost and travel worth it). The Jaguares have generally been underachievers in Super Rugby. Their major gain has been to pull their overseas-based players back into Argentina.

Jaguares are the most well-supported of all the expansion sides

One team based out of Buenos Aires and one out of Tokyo, was supposed to focus the talent base of those regions. An ideal, although to have a ‘close to’ a complete Test team being an also-ran in a regional competition cannot be regarded as acceptable.

That is not to say many of the goals have not been met. What works in the Jaguares favour is that they use the competition well, to develop Argentinian players.

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The Sunwolves were a disappointment throughout. They did not have full support from the Japan Rugby Football Union, who focused their attention on the Top League. The Sunwolves were mostly a team filled with many expats and just a sprinkling of Japanese players. The JRFU made SANZAAR’s decision a really easy one by confirming that they would no longer financially support the Sunwolves.  Where was the true mutual benefit for both Japanese rugby and SANZAAR?

Without JRFU support, it was always an Obvious Outcome

When the Sunwolves were originally included in Super Rugby, popular opinion was that they would not be included post the Rugby World Cup in 2019, with a stay of execution until 2020 when the current agreement would be renegotiated.

Recent developments underlined those opinions. The JRFU withdrew their financial support for the Sunwolves. SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos concluded, “the future of the Sunwolves [was] determined by the JRFU which determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team. However, Japan and the Asia Pacific region remain strategically important to SANZAAR.”

Not meeting the costs and participation agreement obligations was a clear indication of what the JRFU thought of the competition. Strange, when you factor in this year’s Rugby World Cup, and the growth of rugby in Asia.

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Was being ‘all things to all people’ the right call by SANZAAR

SANZAAR give the impression that they have continued to say yes, yes and yes to any idea of expansion. That is probably the result of having a group of Executives in the room that considers the possibility of a ‘larger world market’ as the ideal future. But what if the reality is selling a great product to the rest of the world and not trying to sell the largest product?

Fans of the European Rugby Championship and PRO14 will beg to differ that Super Rugby is the ultimate product.

Did SANZAAR dilute their product too much?

In this writer’s opinion, they have done that. Becoming World Rugby’s proxy developer of rugby support outside of Europe and the USA has been a bridge too far. The “more is better” approach was a failure and lead to a competition that was too long, too difficult to understand and started to lack relevance because of that.

The question that begs to be answered is, what on earth will SANZAAR come up within the next broadcast rights cycle of Super Rugby?

We can only hope that it would be something sensible that improves the product.

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