The concept of what is now known as Super Rugby was started back in in the late 80’s as a competition between nations from New Zealand and Australia as well as Fiji. When South Africa was brought out of sporting isolation the Super 10 was born. Post 1995 when rugby became a professional game the Super 12 was created. The Super 12 ran for roughly ten years before Super 14 came around. In 2011 we saw each of the three SANZAR nations being represented equally with five teams each as the Melbourne Rebels were brought into the fray. As of the current year, 2016 we now know the competition as Super Rugby and have a further three teams added in, totaling 18. The question remains though, is the title “Super” Rugby really justified.
Many if not all from the Southern Hemisphere believe Super Rugby to be the toughest competition at a non-national level. This may well have been the case during the Super 12 and Super 14 editions of the competition but I am afraid it may no longer be justified. To be justified as a top ranking competition surely one would expect to see the top teams fighting it out for the top spots and some of the most entertaining and competitive rugby should be played at this time with match ups of equal proportion.
The problems became clearly visible in the second edition of Super Rugby back in 2012 when the Sharks were in fact 1 log point ahead of the Reds and thus should have qualified for a home quarter final but instead were forced to fly to Queensland and play the reds, back home to face the Stormers in the semi-finals before having to fly to New Zealand to face the Chiefs. The burdensome travel schedule as a result of an agreement between SANZAR nations which guaranteed the top 3 seeds being one from each nation proved a large factor in the Sharks eventual collapse in the final.
This year with the competition schedule having 18 teams split across four pools which include a team from each of Argentina and Japan a similar problem seems to be imminent. The top spot of each of the four pools is guaranteed a place in the finals regardless of how many log points they have in total. This could thus lead to a situation where for example the Rebels don’t beat anybody but the Aussie teams and find themselves qualifiers over a team that has managed a decent season purely on the basis of the qualification system.
The problem goes even deeper however as the South African teams are split into two pools of four, each of which features one of the new teams from either Argentina or Japan. Across the South African pools there are the two guaranteed spots for the top team of each log and a single spot further for the team with the most log points between the two logs combined. This allows for the New Zealand and Australian sides to have a guaranteed five participants in the finals whereas South Africa could end up with only one should the Argentinians and Japanese teams top the logs.
If one looks at things like the interest of generating income through broadcasting as well as keeping each of the nations interested in the competition for as long as possible, you then have to ask the question of why the scenario mentioned just above this is possible. With South Africans having less spots booked for the final as well as other nations competing in their pools for those spots will the broadcasting goals really be achieved?
Now looking at the strength of the competition it is undeniable that it has lost some of its excitement. Not playing certain teams, the addition of teams not properly prepared, having guaranteed spots in the play offs as well as the uneven amount of spots per conference has watered down the quality of the competition drastically. We see it week in and week out where the top half of the log plays some truly innovative and exciting rugby whilst the bottom half are merely there to provide the top teams with a full house of log points. The Kings alone this season have shipped more than 50 points a game and don’t seem to be improving.
There is a simple solution to satisfy both broadcasting interests as well as fan interest and quality rugby. Allow one spot from each of the four conferences to be guaranteed a spot in the top eight. The further four remaining spots should then be awarded to the teams that finish highest on the overall log regardless of which conference they fall under.
The current format is set in stone for the next few years however when SANZAR take a look at the next round of changes they should consider spreading the schedule out and possibly looking at a second league for promotion and relegation to the top league. This will improve the quality of rugby played as well as protect player welfare in the long run.
“I am of the mind if something isn’t broken then don’t try and fix it” – John Cornforth
Written by Nicholas Halsey