The new competition will expand to include 18 teams with South Africa receiving an additional place in the competition and two other nations gaining entry. It has now been confirmed that a team from Argentina will be joining Super Rugby in 2016 and rumours are circulating that the final place could be claimed by a team based in Singapore.
Whilst the inclusion of sides from outside the traditional rugby power houses of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa is great news for the expansion of the game, the location of the new Super Rugby franchises must be called into question.
It’s obviously hard to argue with the inclusion of a team from Argentina being included into Super Rugby given the national sides recent inclusion in the Rugby Championship. It is the location of the other two franchises however that must be called into question.
Japan’s national coach Eddie Jones has already raised questions over the potential of the final spot going to a team based in Singapore. Whilst he clearly has vested interests in the matter, it’s hard to see the benefit of including a team based in a country ranked 58th in the world behind such powerhouses as Cayman, Uganda and Papua New Guinea.
One reasons cited for the potential inclusion of Singapore is that as the team will be based in one of the South African conferences, the travel time for the teams will be greatly reduced. Frankly though, if Super Rugby has any genuine interest in expanding the game that the final team should be included in Japan after their national side broke into the IRB top 10 last month.
The biggest issue with the expansion plans however is the inclusion of a sixth team from South Africa. A quick glance at the 2014 Super Rugby table (below) is more than enough to confirm the current state of the club game in South Africa. They are represented by just one team in the play-offs and only had two teams in the top 10 overall meaning that three out of the bottom five sides in 2014 are South African.
How can a country that is struggling to compete with five teams be seriously contemplating spreading their playing resources even further by including an extra team in the competition. Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case in rugby these days, the issue boils down to money. The South Africans provide the bulk of the money into the Super Rugby pot and so have been able to pretty much dictate the terms of Super Rugby’s latest expansion.
The key issue here has been South Africa’s willingness to allow their top players to leave their Super Rugby franchises to play in Europe and Japan whilst still including them in the national set up. New Zealand and Australia instead maintain a policy of excluding non-domestic based players from the national set-up.
Whilst this has not ensured they have retained all of their top players, both Australia and New Zealand have done a much better job of keeping the majority of their top players within their Super Rugby franchises. This will in part help to explain why South African sides are struggling to compete more and more in Super Rugby.
It seems likely that this player drain from South African club rugby is only going to continue raising the question, will South Africa have the playing resources to support six sides in Super Rugby? The answer to this is a resounding no based on this seasons performance.
Once it again it seems that money talks in rugby though as South Africa plough on with plans for an additional franchise as they flaunt their financial muscle to the detriment of the game. Whereas a new team from the Pacific Islands or the USA would make much more sense in terms of expanding the game, we are instead faced with what is likely to be a dilution of the competition by spreading South Africa’s limited playing resources even further.
Do you think South Africa should have a sixth Super Rugby franchise?