With South Africa demanding a sixth Super Rugby franchise, and whispers of New Zealand seeking a sixth team too, the expansion of the Super Rugby tournament is looking more than likely. Much debate is spreading around SANZAR about a new tournament structure from 2016, but could it be time for new nations to join Super Rugby, and make a global club competition?
The possibilities are endless. A rugby club competition with teams, fans, and markets on a global scale. Imagine it, the Crusaders taking on, let’s say, a New York XV. It could provide so many benefits to the Rugby World. The obvious improvement is an increased standard of rugby in minnow countries (Japan, for example), as many of their players would have frequent exposure to top class opposition. It would also awaken the sleeping hotspots for fans, think how prosperous the competition would be with fan bases in North America (to see a Canadian or American franchise), South America (to see an Argentinian franchise), or Asia (to see a Japanese franchise). Also, I doubt SANZAR fans would mind the away trips to New York, or Buenos Aries!
But alas, a tournament which could add super to Super Rugby would surely be trampled on by rugby’s many cynics. This concept has excited me to the same degree a straight feed in the scrum excites Brian Moore, and as a result, I have discussed it with many rugby fans. Rugby fans are an opinionated bunch, and so I have encountered many cynics to a global Super Rugby tournament. The main point many of them make is, ‘how would it even work?’
One model could be dividing Super Rugby into two divisions of 12. A ‘Premiership’ division, and a ‘Championship’ division, for instance. There would be promotion and relegation within this structure, and each team would face all the teams in their division once (meaning just 11 fixtures excluding playoffs, so yet another improvement would be less fixture congestion which is so often ranted about). It leaves room for South Africa’s beloved sixth franchise, another Kiwi franchise, and many exciting franchises from new regions, like the possible model shown below.
Premiership division: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricaines (New Zealand), Bulls, Cheetahs, Sharks, Stormers (South Africa), Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs (Australia).
Championship division: Lions, Kings (both South Africa), Cowboys (or whatever name, the new Kiwi franchise), Warriors (a Pacific Islanders franchise, but based in Auckland), Buenos Aries, Tucuman (both Argentina), New York, Old Puget Sound Beach (both USA), BC Bears, Ontario (both Canada), Suntory Sungoliath, Toshiba Brave Lupus (both Japan).
This model allows a global tournament free of the flaws which the cynics mention. For instance, many of the cynics complained about torrid and tireing away trips for the players, but with only 11 fixtures, there would be plenty of time to travel to these countries and prepare comfortably. Cynics also doubt any quality would come from American or Japanese franchises, but in this model they will face weaker super rugby teams to develop into a side ready for promotion.
I’m sure this is not the only model that could apply, but it shows that the doubts of the cynics can be countered, and a mouth-watering prospect could perhaps become reality. These nations deserve a much increased involvement at the elite level. Argentina’s passion for the sport deserves more merit, Japan’s domestic rugby is on the rise, and Canada have had over 20,000 fans at their last two home matches. The excitement and perks it could bring to the rugby world are endless, so why don’t we just go for it?