Mind Games: The mother of all harebrained schemes

2014-03-04 10:00

As far as harebrained schemes go, you would have to go a long way to beat the proposed new format for Super Rugby being bandied about by Sanzar administrators.

With the current TV broadcast contract due to expire next year, officials are pressed to propose a system that not only satisfies the networks but improves on a Super XV structure that simply has not worked – regardless of what the rugby czars might say.

The SA Rugby Union (Saru), if local press reports and opinion emerging from New Zealand and Australia are anything to go by, has been promoting a plan that would address current needs, but is almost certain to fail in the long run.

This proposal involves increasing the number of teams in the tournament to 18 by including the Southern Kings, a team from Argentina and one other – possibly either an additional African team, another from Argentina, or maybe even from Japan or Italy.

The suggestion is that the teams would then split into four conferences, Africa 1 and 2 (including Argentina), and New Zealand and Australia.

The African groups would include four teams each and the Kiwis and Aussies will continue to field their five current teams.

This arrangement would satisfy South Africa’s Kings conundrum and allegedly be more financially lucrative because Saru will retain its full share of TV’s lucre rather than having to split it with the rest.

But it is in the actual workings that the pitch veers off into cloud- cuckoo-land.

The suggestion is that the teams in the conferences will play a double round against each other – that is, home and away, and then a single round against a neighbouring conference.

But herein lies the rub: the New Zealand and Australian teams would then play each other while the “Africa” conferences will play each other to determine quarter- and semifinalists before the two left standing, one from Africa and one from the antipodes, will face off in the Super Rugby final.

Local administrators say this arrangement would cut out the travel handicap South African sides have always faced in the tournament and basically guarantee a team from South Africa in the final.

What they don’t say is that travel costs to run a competition with so many teams is all but prohibitive and that South Africa will be robbed of the intrinsic attraction of Super Rugby with our teams measured against the best of New Zealand and Australia.

There are already grumblings that South African teams play against each other too often in Super Rugby as well as the Currie Cup, and to strip the tournament of its international flavour will almost certainly have an adverse effect on attendances and audience ratings.

South Africa’s proposal is being circulated for discussion, but it is already coming under fire, particularly in New Zealand, where former All Black

skipper Taine Randell is the latest to add his voice to the naysayers.

Harping on the fact that South Africa’s fifth side has done badly, Randell wrote in a column: “The early signals for the next phase of Super Rugby expansion defy logic. We wait with interest for more details, but there is nothing to justify a sixth South African team, and the addition of an Argentinian side makes for a logistical nightmare in a tournament where travel has always been seen as a major handicap.”

Randell also castigates officials for failing to include the Pacific Islands, ­Samoa, Fiji and Tonga in their plans.

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