Super Rugby

The rise and fall of Super Rugby, in 6 stages

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David Havili clashes with Kwagga Smith during the Super Rugby final between Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park on 5 August 2017. (Gallo Images)
David Havili clashes with Kwagga Smith during the Super Rugby final between Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park on 5 August 2017. (Gallo Images)

South Africa's decision to pull its teams out of Super Rugby and head north to the PRO14 effectively brought the competition to a close after 25 years.

Here we look at the journey of a tournament that was the breeding ground of the New Zealand, South Africa and Australia sides that have won five of the past six World Cups.

Uncomplicated start

In 1996, a year after rugby turned professional, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (Sanzar) launched the inaugural Super 12 season with much fanfare, packed stadiums and lucrative contracts to keep players from the clutches of rival codes.

It was an uncomplicated system, and the first season culminated with the Blues defeating the Sharks in the final.

Conference system

In 2011, the simple round-robin format was replaced by a complicated conference system and although it proved frustrating for the die-hard fans, as weaker teams could more easily reach the final stages, it took nine years before an agreement was reached to end it.

16 time zones

Staging a multinational tournament stretching from South Africa to New Zealand became unwieldy and problems arose with the decision to expand.

By 2016 Sanzar had become Sanzaar with the failed experiment to include teams from Japan and Argentina in an 18-team competition. Matches were spread across 16 time zones in three conferences.

Pacific shut-out

Throughout its 25-year history, Super Rugby bosses turned a deaf ear to public calls to include the flair of a Pacific islands team, after Fiji and Western Samoa had featured in the Super Six and Super 10 competitions of the amateur era.

Extra South African and Australian sides were added in 2006 and another Australian franchise joined in 2011, giving each of the three foundation countries five teams each.

A push for a predominantly Pacific team to join Super 18 in 2016 was rejected in favour of Japan and Argentina.

Dwindling crowds

With a cumbersome 18 teams in three conferences and some lop-sided scorelines, crowds began to dwindle.

South Africa's Lions entered the 2017 playoffs despite having not faced a New Zealand team and when it came to the crunch they lost the final at home to the Crusaders.

Axe falls

Another rethink saw two South African and one Australian side cut in 2018, before Japan's Sunwolves were kicked out in 2020. The widely criticised conference system was to be scrapped for 2021.

But the constant tinkering had done its damage and when the coronavirus pandemic made international play impossible the founding countries looked for a system that suited them best.

With New Zealand and Australia discussing a trans-Tasman competition, South Africa decided their future lies in the northern hemisphere.

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Fixtures
Fri 30 Oct 20 19:00 PM (SAST)
Lions
Tafel Lager Griquas
Emirates Airlines Park
Sat 31 Oct 20 16:30 PM (SAST)
Phakisa Pumas
Sharks
Mbombela Stadium
Sat 31 Oct 20 19:00 PM (SAST)
Bulls
Stormers
Loftus Versfeld
Results
Sat 24 Oct 20
Bulls 41
Sharks 14
Fri 23 Oct 20
Phakisa Pumas 37
Stormers 42
Sat 17 Oct 20
Stormers 23
Lions 17
Logs
Team
P
W
PTS
1. Bulls
3
2
10
2. Cheetahs
2
2
9
3. Stormers
2
2
8
4. Phakisa Pumas
3
1
5