17 Jul 2020
NZ Rugby has done SA Rugby a favour by excluding South Africa from a proposed new Super Rugby tournament.
NZ Rugby announced on Friday its plans to establish an eight or 10 team tournament for 2021 and beyond, involving its five franchises, two to four Australian teams and a Pacific Islands team.
While NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson said they wished to ‘remain close’ to South Africa and Argentina and were considering other opportunities for the teams to play against each other, Super Rugby – and Sanzaar – as we’ve known it for the past 25 years is finished.
This is a good thing for South African rugby. Super Rugby has been broken since Sanzaar’s disastrous decision to change the tournament from a 14-team league format to a 15 team conference format in 2011 (and then 18 teams in 2016).
More and more fans lost interest in the tournament, with stadium attendances and TV viewing figures plummetting.
Sanzaar’s decision to return to 15 teams in 2019 and a 14-team league format in 2021 came too late to save Super Rugby, as the Covid-19 pandemic finally put the tournament out of its misery.
With international travel restrictions in place for the foreseeable future and the success of Super Rugby Aotearoa, you can’t blame NZ Rugby for 'breaking up' with South Africa at franchise level.
And we should thank them for it, because it means SA Rugby now has little choice but to go north.
SA Rugby has been in discussions with Pro Rugby about bringing the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded Pro16 or Pro18 tournament, which will have obvious benefits, including reduced travel demands, similar time zones, new opposition and more TV broadcast money.
RugbyRocks.com understands a decision on when SA’s four Super Rugby franchises will join Pro Rugby – and the fate of its current Pro14 teams the Cheetahs and Kings – will be made as soon as there’s clarity around the delayed start of the 2020-21 season due to Covid-19.
But with Super Rugby no longer an option for SA Rugby, 'going Pro' is surely a done deal.
– Borchardt is the editorial director of RugbyRocks.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix