SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos described the revamped Super 15 as ‘best versus best’ and an improvement on the now defunct Super 18.
But no tournament in which Japan’s Sunwolves are playing can be described as the ‘best versus best’. To do so is to take a liberty and to seriously take advantage of poetic licence.
Super 15 will be an improvement on the mess that paraded as Super Rugby, but the tournament still needs a reduction in team numbers before it again can take its place as the premier non-international global professional rugby competition.
For now, the Champions Cup, aligned with Top 14 and the Premiership, comfortably offers a greater attraction, in terms of quality, variety and strength versus strength.
The Champions Cup quarter-finalists were determined on Sunday and 15 teams were competing for the final five places on the last weekend of the Pool stages. It’s this competitiveness that defines the Champions Cup, and Super Rugby (in its current guise) will never compete with Champions Cup, for sheer drama and intensity. The absolute divorce in strength versus strength in Super Rugby means that the top four to six are often decided long before the final league round of matches.
The Sunwolves' initial introduction could have been explained as a SANZAAR initiative, aimed at expanding the competition’s commercial potential and tapping into the Japanese market. South Africa, understandably, would have supported this on the belief and understanding that Japan would endorse South Africa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid.
Why else would South Africa even entertain the Japanese option?
South Africa gets no benefit from having the in Super Rugby. It only adds to the travel and the tournament length. South Africa sacrificed two regional teams (Cheetahs and Kings) in Super Rugby’s reduction but it was done on the premise that Japan would obviously back South Africa’s World Cup ambitions.
Japan completely betrayed South Africa by voting for France. Japan also used its influence in Asia to push France’s Rugby World Cup bid. There were several business deals done between corporates in Japan and France and it was apparent that Japan never had any alliance with South Africa.
Which again asks what the hell the Sunwolves are doing in a reduced Super Rugby when the Cheetahs, as just one example, were given the chop?
Australia and New Zealand are the beneficiaries of a Japanese association with Super Rugby. South Africa gets absolutely no value now that the Rugby World Cup vote has come and gone.
The Super 15 status quo will remain for this year and in 2019, the Rugby World Cup year. But I’d like to think South Africa’s rugby bosses share the view that from 2020 onwards there is no place for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby, whatever the competition structure.
Less is more in Super Rugby, and the original 12 team single round and top four play-off format remains the most appealing. It is also a reflection of best plays best.
In an ideal world, we’d see Super 12 in 2020. It may even be a romantic notion to think that sanity would trump saturation and that we’ll ever again see a Super 12. But what we shouldn’t be seeing post the 2019 Rugby World Cup is any more South African charity for Japan.
Charity begins at home and the interests of South African teams must come before the Sunwolves.
The talk is that Griquas and Pumas will play in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and potentially be included in an expanded PRO14. It will allow South Africa to produce four professional regions playing in the northern hemisphere to go with the four regions playing in Super Rugby.
Ideally, I’d want to see a stronger South African presence up north but that is unlikely to happen, unless Super Rugby becomes Super 12 and one of the traditional South African four regions opts to play in the north, which would include the possibility of playing in the financially very lucrative Champions Cup.
I don’t see Super 15 being much different to Super 18. It will be a two-division type race where the top six or eight will be determined midway through the tournament, and effectively the tournament gives South African and New Zealand supporters the strength versus strength domestic competition of yesteryear in the guise of Conference match-ups.
The Currie Cup, in its strongest format, gets replicated for the four regions (really the four main provinces) in Super Rugby, but the adjective super simply cannot be used in the same sentence as the Sunwolves.
The Champions Cup is the new Super Rugby, which is why I’d want our best teams playing up north instead of the farce that are matches in Singapore, which has no rugby soul and spectator presence.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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