Super Rugby

Mehrtens lays boot into Super Rugby: Ditch SA, go trans-Tasman route

Super Rugby is dead in its current format and must change to a competition played solely in New Zealand and Australian time zones, says former All Black Andrew Mehrtens, according to the Stuff website.

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"New Zealand is going to benefit ultimately from a revamped Super Rugby, and Australia will too," the 87-capped Crusaders icon told the show in a conversation with former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and former Ireland hooker Keith Wood.

"I've said for quite a while now that while the competition has expanded, it hasn't expanded in a consistent or logical way.

"It's just added a couple of teams here and there. It went to 14, 15, then it went to 18 and dropped back down.

"The hindrance in Super Rugby is that there are games in Argentina now, and the time zone is not great for New Zealand and Australia, the same with South Africa.

"Not many people are watching even their own teams at 03:00 in the morning coming out of South Africa."

Although New Zealand Rugby has expressed its support for the Sanzaar alliance, it is also conducting the Aratipu review of Super Rugby, which will be led by the respected Blues chairperson Don Mackinnon.

Mackinnon told the Stuff website back in April: “This is not a talkfest ... I’m confident we can create something incredibly exciting and truly world-class out of all of this.”

That has prompted speculation that a significant redrawing of the competition could be on the cards and Mehrtens said the time had come to cut out South Africa.

"It's nothing against South Africa, but I think the competition would be much better more localised to one time zone, or expanding into Asia," he said.

"It's been crazy somehow allowing Japan to somehow slip out of the Sanzaar competition.

"But if it means that Aussie, New Zealand the Islands and Asia get in together I think it could work well.

"The logical place for South Africa to expand would be places like Dubai.

"I've said constantly for the last five years that the competition needs to change.

"Super Rugby needs to wipe out those big divides in terms of the time zones.

"I'd love to see a trans-Tasman competition in this time zone."

Anticipating some pushback from South African fans, Mehrtens, who was born in Durban, was at pains to say he had no issue with South African rugby, but was concerned about the state of play in New Zealand and Australia. 

"South Africa will jump up and down and say, 'you hate South Africa'.

"No I don't, other than they beat us in the 1995 World Cup final.

"I don't hate South Africa at all but what I'm concerned about is the rugby product and I think that's suffering at the moment through the structure of Super Rugby.

"One of the benefits of this Covid-19, like in a lot of industries and business as well, it's given everybody a reset point to revaluate and say, 'OK, so how do we go forward in an efficient way and make the most of what we have as a product."

Cheika, who coached the Waratahs to the 2014 Super Rugby title, echoed Mehrtens' thoughts and said that during his time as Wallabies coach he had lobbied hard for a trans-Tasman competition.

"I was adamant about changing towards trans-Tasman because we need to rebuild the supporter base," he said.

"The economics [of Super Rugby] just don't match up.

"The ability to build some continuity of fandom and following and support and sponsorship loyalty and return on investment for sponsors is nearly impossible.

"To break even in a Super Rugby team you have to have a home final, at least one if not two, that's based on the Australian model.

"So, you've got three other teams that are guaranteed to lose money.

"I don't know how it's possible to sustain that model."

While Sanzaar have gone to great lengths in an attempt to convince the world that the four-country alliance is still strong and in place until at least 2030, we live in unprecedented times where money talks and contracts aren't often worth more than the paper they are written on.

One can only go on the facts. New Zealand have been given the green-light to resume playing competitive rugby from Saturday, 13 June. Australia won't be far behind, while South Africa, as per the current gazetted regulations, can only resume sporting activities in lockdown Level 1. The country - or parts thereof - may only be moving to Level 3 from 1 June.

It remains to be seen how this all unfolds.

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