A tough task awaits the top brass at SA Rugby to determine the country’s four entrants into a revamped Super Rugby tournament next year.
SANZAAR, the southern hemisphere’s rugby governing body, announced last weekend that the Super Rugby tournament will be reduced from 18 to 15 teams in 2018.
Australia will lose one team and South Africa two, with Argentina’s Jaguares and Japan’s Sunwolves surviving the cut.
There will no doubt be a lot of debating regarding which four South African teams will play, with pundits and fans expressing differing views on the matter.
In a column written earlier this week, I proposed that the most viable option would be to see the Cheetahs and Lions merge to re-establish the Cats franchise and that the Southern Kings join the Sharks - as was the case when the franchise system was first introduced in South Africa in 1998.
As expected, the idea received mixed reviews.
It’s clear that Cheetahs and Lions fans are not relishing a possible rebirth of the Cats and one proposal put forward was: ‘Why not revert back to using the Currie Cup as a qualifying tournament for Super Rugby?’
During the first two years of the then-Super 12, the four best placed teams in the previous year’s Currie Cup were promoted to the following year’s southern hemisphere showpiece.
In 1996, Free State were forced to play in the old M-Net Night Series having not finished in the top four of the 1995 Currie Cup.
In 1997, it was Western Province’s turn to miss out after a terrible 1996 Currie Cup and the Blue Bulls were set to miss the 1998 Super 12, only to see the franchise system come to their rescue.
So this got me thinking.
Maybe qualifying to get into Super Rugby would be fair on all parties involved... before realising it was 2017 and two decades into the professional era!
For the Currie Cup to determine South Africa’s Super Rugby participants, the tournament would have to allow each team to field their best players, and this includes the Springboks being available for all matches.
The Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls contested last year’s Currie Cup final, but given both teams’ struggles in Super Rugby this year, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they weren’t the two best teams in the country last year.
The Sharks finished fifth in last year’s Currie Cup and surely would not have deserved to sit out Super Rugby in 2017.
Getting the Springboks to feature for the entire Currie Cup would be problematic, if not impossible, given the international fixture list which is formulated years in advance.
The Rugby Championship runs concurrently with the Currie Cup and after the latter’s conclusion, the Boks head for their annual end-of year tour to Europe.
Playing the Currie Cup before the Super Rugby season would be near impossible - unless you have games in mid-December!
Therefore, using the Currie Cup as a qualifying tournament for Super Rugby would not be a feasible solution.
In a recent press statement, SA Rugby also noted that agreed headline criteria for the four Super Rugby franchises would be: “Financial and economic sustainability; sustainable support base; team performance; and stadium and facilities.”
It’s clear that SA Rugby seeks, for at least the foreseeable future, some stability in the form of establishing four permanent franchises.
The potential of having different teams in Super Rugby could also lead to difficulties in finding sponsors - who would not be keen to commit long-term when a team’s Super Rugby status is annually up for review...
Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
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