- URC chief Martin Anayi believes one of the stumbling blocks to the tournament reaching its potential is the Springboks' continued involvement in the Rugby Championship.
- That commitment means that the playing calendar still doesn't align fully, raising the spectre of some of the first season's hiccups remaining in place.
- Yet Anayi also believes rugby as a whole can do much more to keep the game fresh and competitive overall.
Without criticising the Springboks' continued involvement in the tournament, URC chief Martin Anayi has pinpointed the Rugby Championship as the fly in the ointment for the fledgling competition reaching its true potential.
Feedback on the inaugural edition last season revealed the teething problems of World Rugby not having finalised a global calendar, meaning the URC in particular will still need to compromise on optimal competitiveness.
SA Rugby, who'll become a full shareholder in the tournament in 2024, is currently contractually obliged to stay in the Sanzaar alliance until 2025 and also still dependent on the revenue derived from the Rugby Championship.
As a result, the Boks' itinerary will remain unsynchronised with its local franchises.
"We've been pretty vocal with World Rugby that the calendar can better, certainly in terms of internationals trying not to overlap with club rugby. We're getting there in the northern hemisphere. We try not to play in the Six Nations window and neither do we play in the November internationals," Anayi told a URC roundtable hosted by Roc Nation, one of its commercial partners.
"But of course, when the Rugby Championship is at the start of the season, there's a misalignment. I'd love to align those two streams up at some stage so that we don't get this mismatch and overlap. That would make this tournament even better than it already is."
Better alignment would also mean the URC avoids a proverbial season of two halves, which was very much evident last season.
"One of the main points of feedback we had was that until there's better alignment in the calendar, you're going to have seasons of two halves, which was very much the case in the inaugural campaign. We hope we don't see that again, particularly because we were forced to reschedule some games into the Six Nations window because of the Omicron variant outbreak," said Anayi.
"There were mismatches in the first half and it became better in the second because some teams found consistency, especially the South Africans.
"Non-SA teams noted that they had to juggle European rugby too. Now everyone's in the same boat. There's an added challenge and some consistency. We can get to a better season, I believe. The whole thing is better. Media can concentrate on covering one event instead of various ones."
Yet Anayi, who's been generally praised for his willingness to listen, admits everyone in world rugby can do their bit keep the game fresh.
"Overall, and this requires an effort from all, we certainly can play less rugby in terms of the number of games that are contested. We should try to increase quality over quantity. If we can get to the point where we get direct match-ups - internationals versus internationals - that's the holy grail," he said.
"More linear approach to building up to internationals would be good too, maybe a nations cup or league. Every game would have meaning. We should keep being ambitious and keep going forward."