Sanzar CEO Greg Peters admits that the decision to stage an extended Super Rugby competition and hold the Tri-Nations in a World Cup year was based on money rather than what was best for the players.
Many medical experts have questioned the decision to have a four-month regional competition and then an intense international competition like the Tri-Nations back to back. The decision makes even less sense when the respective Sanzar nations are preparing their teams to peak at the World Cup in September.
Peters is currently touring the three countries in an attempt to get some feedback on the new Super Rugby format. He suggested that while player fatigue is a burning issue, rugby is a business and he has to worry about the bottom line.
‘We hear the concern about player welfare and it is of huge importance,’ Peters said at a media gathering in Johannesburg. ‘But without the money from the Tri-Nations this year, because there are no June in-bound Tests in a World Cup year, the Sanzar unions would have suffered significant losses.
‘The economic reality is that Super Rugby also drives revenue into the three countries and to their franchises, and is an important business model for them too. It’s the scheduling and the time of our southern hemisphere season that makes it difficult. The question is where we should position these competitions.’
Australia doesn’t have the player depth of New Zealand or South Africa, a fact that was reflected by the performances of the Australian franchises in the recent Super Rugby competition. While the Reds won the tournament and the Waratahs were in the top six, the three remaining franchises finished in the bottom five. Many have asked if the Reds would have topped the log had they not had the luxury of playing weak teams like the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force twice.
Peters, however, denied that the conference system favoured Australia.
‘Super Rugby is a joint venture between three partners working together for the strength of that competition. That has happened and, although there’s no doubt the new format suits the Australian market – 21 weeks being similar to the ARL (Rugby League) and AFL (Australian Rules football) – South Africa and New Zealand derive enough benefit from it as well,’ Peters said.
The Sanzar CEO added that the format would be in place for the next five years, but suggested that there could be smaller adjustments made in the near future.
‘There may be some small changes, but the fundamental goal of Sanzar is securing financial success and growing crowds and fan appeal. I’d say the new format gets an A+ in Australia and a pass mark in the other two countries.’