NFL-style set-up for Super Rugby?
Southern Hemisphere rugby controlling body Sanzar will consider a radical proposal to re-align the Super Rugby competition along the lines of the NFL, splitting the competition into four conferences with less travel for most of the teams.
The proposal, which was presented to the South African Rugby Union Exco on Thursday, still needs to travel a long way before it becomes the new format of the competition, but is being discussed by all three countries at the moment with a possible report back to Sanzar in the next few months. The new proposal will see an upswing in revenue for the SA Rugby Union (Saru) as well as the virtual guarantee of having a South African team in the final of any future Super Rugby competition.
With the current Vodacom Super Rugby format not that popular among players and fans, with complaints about travel, fatigue and injuries over the 19-week competition, no agreement has yet been reached on how a new format should look after 2015 when the current Sanzar contract ends.
Saru are known to be in discussions with several European bodies at the moment, looking at alternative competitions, but it is unlikely that South African teams would join the Heineken Cup in its current format. However, a new competition may well be on the cards involving European teams if no agreement in the Super Rugby question is reached.
Gone is the 18-team format idea, the proposal that gives three franchises of six teams and mooted involvement from Japan and the USA. What has been underlined is the importance of admitting an Argentinean franchise into the Super Rugby fold, and the new proposal will see less travelling while keeping the same cross-continent games that have been a hallmark of the competition.
Under the radical proposal now being considered, Sanzar will split the Super Rugby into two major conferences – East and West, as is done in American Football. These two conferences will then be split into two again: Africa getting two separate conferences, Australia and New Zealand one each.
In other words, the proposal sees Super Rugby working as follows
• Four conferences - Africa 1 and 2, Australia and New Zealand.
• Australia and New Zealand would each consist of their five current Super Rugby franchises
• The two African conferences would have four teams each. The five current Super Rugby franchises plus the Southern Kings would be South Africa’s compliment with Argentina providing a seventh franchise.
• The eighth franchise is still to be decided, but could either be another South African team, an African franchise, or even a European franchise team such as Italy.
• According to the proposal, teams would then would play a double round against each other within their conferences, ie home and away.
• They would also play a single round against their neighbouring conference – ie, the Africa franchises would play each other, while Australia would play the New Zealand franchises.
• The competition would also add international spice with West and East facing each other, ie Africa 1 would play New Zealand teams while Africa 2 would face Australian teams and be swopped around every year.
After the round robin aspect of the conferences is played, the East and West conferences will have their own quarter- and semifinals to determine a finalist. The final would then be played between the Africa winner and the Australia/New Zealand winner.
A massive plus of the complicated proposal would see each country keeping its host broadcasting revenue, as opposed to the current system where South Africa contributes 45% of the money and only receives 33% share of the income.
The proposals still have to be accepted by each country, but are now on the table. Once accepted, they will then head back to Sanzar, who will then have a mandate to discuss further with the broadcast partners and negotiate a new five-year contract for Super Rugby.
But even if it is complicated, it would mean a win-win situation for franchises who would still have derby matches as well as an international flavour, with South African interest all but guaranteed until the end of the tournament.