SA to push for bigger Super Rugby

MARK KEOHANE writes South Africa will this year support an expanded Super Rugby competition to accommodate the Kings and Lions. But Pacific Island teams will again miss out.

Any expansion can only happen in 2016 but take it as a given Super Rugby will comprise more teams, but they won’t feature teams from the Pacific Islands because there is no financial gain to be made.

Sanzar CEO Greg Peters told the media Sanzar’s three partners Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would make the decision to expand or not later in 2013.

Argentina, Canada, Japan and the United States are seen as the primary targets. Japan because of the cash cow it promises to be, Argentina as a commitment to the expanded Rugby Championship that featured the Pumas for the first time and Canada and the United States because they are seen as potential cash cows, especially the United States. The word is to have one team from each of those countries.

It is one of the reasons Canada and the United States will play in the Pacific Nations Cup, which again shows how poorly the Island representation of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are treated within Sanzar.

South Africa has always been seen as the big brother to Samoa in terms of value attributed to playing against Samoa and giving the country’s rugby side as much playing opportunity as possible.

New Zealand and Australia do nothing to promote the virtues of any of the Island teams because financially they offer nothing in terms of broadcasting deals.

‘We are considering whether or not we will include new territories in Super Rugby and one of the factors we’ll be weighing up is their [Canada and United States] competitiveness,’ Peters told The Australian.

‘Super Rugby in its present form is a pretty successful model … and we are not going to water it down. But we’d be derelict in our duty if we didn’t consider expanding into areas. The United States is a very big market and so is Japan and Asia generally. Ultimately it all comes down to what is in the best interests of the three Sanzar parties.’

Peters said player welfare would be a consideration but an expanded competition may allow for the tournament to be split into two pools of 10 teams each, although Australia will definitely not want to lose the conference system and the double-header local derbies. It is proving massive in Australia and the current format gives Australia everything it has wanted in a rugby union tournament that competes with the AFL (Aussie rules) and rugby league’s NRL.

Television audience figures and match attendance were highest in Australian Super Rugby for derby matches and because Australia has no provincial domestic competition Super Rugby doubles as their domestic competition. Just how South Africa and New Zealand agreed to give up so much for Australia to have so much gain is a question that can never be answered by those who did the surrender. If it could they would not have done so.

Ideally South Africa should be playing in a Super Rugby tournament with the best from England and France. Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Japan should have their own Super Rugby tournament. Geographically that makes more sense, but the Celtic nations (Scotland, Ireland and Wales) remain the stumbling block to any South African participation in Europe.

New Zealand knows it can’t do justice to more than five teams, Australia is at its maximum and South Africa’s only need is to ease the political tensions and have all six regions represented. Then it is a matter of which new territories can make the existing Sanzar partners the biggest financial net gain.

Sanzar’s counter argument to the Pacific Islands is that it is the responsibility of the IRB to develop those countries. I don’t buy it, but then Sanzar has never been big on a purchase of morality.