Super Rugby will expand in 2016 to be Super 18, but here are some different options, which format should Super Rugby have?
1) Original format
Many people believe that the best Super Rugby format was in the glory days of the 1990s when Super Rugby started. There were 12 teams, five from New Zealand, four from South Africa and three from Australia. These numbers actually suit the relative depth of each country. Each team played each other once with the top four making the semi-finals. This format was simple and fair.
2) Super 15 format
Teams were split into conferences (countries) with five teams per country or conference. Teams play the other teams in their conference both home and away, while they then play most, but not all the other teams. This competition got a bit complicated with teams not playing all the other teams, and complaints that teams in tougher conferences like New Zealand were disadvantaged by playing the stronger teams twice. This system was complex. The main criticism was that the top team in each team were in the top three overall no matter how many points they finished on. This meant that the Stormers qualified third after winning the South African conference despite finishing on the seventh highest points!
3) Super 18 format
South Africa will get a sixth team, while Argentina and Japan get a team each to make it into an 18 team conference covering four different continents and multiple timezones. It is hard to know how strong the new teams will be, but it usually takes a few seasons for new teams to become competitive. This will be based on another complicated conference format including a complicated African 1 and 2 conference, although you have to wonder about the strength of these conferences given how poorly South African teams did in 2015 and that both Argentina and Japan may struggle.
Super Rugby is expanding. From next year, teams from Japan and Argentina will join the New Zealand, Australia and South African teams in the competition. This means that games will be played in even more timezones. Including teams from Europe will be a better match for the South African timezone. The competition from next year will include teams from four continents, surely there is an opportunity to move into Europe especially.
There is big money in European rugby. Including them in Super Rugby will bring exposure to a large television audience and it will ensure that the best players from around the globe will be participating in the same competition. This would allow us to find out once and for all which hemisphere is the strongest. Hopefully this would also allow Southern Hemisphere teams to get more money which they could spend on players to stop them going to play in Europe.
A global Super Rugby competition doesn’t necessarily require too much travel if you split the teams into conferences based on geographic locations. Teams would play other teams from their conference more and the best teams from the different conferences would meet in the finals. There could be room for a Pan American Conference, European Conference, South African Conference and two Asia Pacific Conferences.
This could also lead to a global rugby calendar so that the June Internationals are more meaningful for example. It would also mean that playing night time rugby in New Zealand could be easier if they play some of the season in summer. We must remember that Super Rugby starts in summer anyway and that rugby is no longer only a winter sport.
Another way could be to only include provinces in Super Rugby, to provide an incentive for teams to play well in the domestic competition of their country. This would probably mainly affect New Zealand’s ITM Cup and South Africa’s Currie Cup, but it would mean that we would be robbed of seeing the best players in Super Rugby as their team may not qualify. It would also mean that the top players like All Blacks would have to be available for domestic rugby as at the moment they rarely play at that level.
What is the best Super Rugby format?