SANZAAR will be dropping two South African Teams and one Australian team from Super Rugby in 2018. The current log has the Blue Bulls and Southern Kings guarding the bottom on 6 points each. Australia’s Rebels are bottom of their log with one point.
It seems fairly logical that the teams that finish at the bottom of the log will be the ones to be given their marching orders. As of today those three teams are: Rebels, Blue Bulls and Southern Kings.
Questioning the logic that the top four winning teams would be the ones to take part in Super Rugby in 2018, logic Charl Crous, COO of the Southern Kings, said that it was premature to assume that the Kings would not be among South Africa’s four franchises to appear in Vodacom Super Rugby in 2018.
“No decision has been made on that question as yet. Various options on the way forward will have to be assessed” he said.
“As advised by SA Rugby, the Franchise Committee will first consider the criteria on which the decision is to be made. After that, both the Executive Council and General Council will take a view before any announcement is made. At the moment we can only control what we can control and that is out on the field where I believe Deon Davids’ team have continued to show an upward curve this season.
We are a professional organisation that takes pride in what we do and we will continue to remain focused on bringing credit to the Southern Kings and the province of the Eastern Cape. Only once a decision has been reached by the SA Rugby General Council will we be in any position to comment on the future,” concluded Crous.
The loss of the tournament to this region will definitely also place further strain on the continued viability of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
SANZAAR announced on Sunday that Vodacom Super Rugby had been restructured for 2018 and would kick-off with a three conference, 15-team format featuring four teams from South Africa, five from New Zealand, four from Australia, one from Japan and one from Argentina.
The streamlining of the competition comes at the end of a nine-month consultation and strategic review process that looked at the short and long-term prospects for SANZAAR’s competitions.
The decision to reduce Vodacom Super Rugby competitors by three teams was unanimously agreed by the four SANZAAR partners. Franchises, broadcasters and fans were all engaged in the process.
“Fans, media and broadcasters have spoken and we have listened to them,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby. “The 18-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition has not worked and we had to face up to that hard fact. The integrity of the format and the lack of competitiveness in too many matches were major issues that needed addressing.
“From a South African rugby high performance perspective we’ve had to acknowledge that the dilution of talent and resources across six franchises – at a time when rand weakness has led to more departures to Europe and Japan – has seriously affected our ability to compete across the board.
“As a rugby nation we need several strong franchises all of whom are in with a serious chance of challenging for the title and we could no longer say that. A reduction in the number of South African franchises was the unavoidable conclusion, especially when put in the context of SANZAAR’s long-term strategy of adding to our tournaments’ appeal and commercial success which, in time, will mean greater returns for SA Rugby.”
SA Rugby will now begin internal consultations to identify its four entrants to the 2018 competition.
The newly-established Franchise Rugby Committee (made up of representatives of all six teams) will meet on Tuesday to finalise the criteria for selection. Their recommendation will go to the Executive Council. Once that recommendation is agreed it will need to be approved by the General Council of SA Rugby.
SANZAAR Chairman, Brent Impey said: “The decision to revert to a 15-team format reflects a consensus view of the mandated SANZAAR Executive Committee that met in London recently. It was not the determination of any one Union or stakeholder and follows a thorough assessment and review of the tournament over the last nine months.
“SANZAAR is delighted that its major broadcast partners have after due consideration agreed to the restructured format within the existing broadcast agreements. Our broadcaster partners are an important stakeholder and their vision for Super Rugby moving forward is the same as ours.
“This decision has not been an easy one and we recognise the difficulty associated with reducing the number of teams in Australia and South Africa. Naturally we understand that there will be some very disappointed franchises but the tournament’s long-term future and the economic reality of the business at present is something that had to be addressed.
“The decision to retain the Sunwolves is linked directly to SANZAAR’s strategic plan for the future. The potential for growth of the sport in Asia off the back of the establishment of the Sunwolves and the impending RWC in 2019 is significant. It remains an obvious focus for the organisation and a Japanese Super Rugby franchise is key to that strategy.”
Roux admitted a reduction in teams was a bitter pill for South Africa to swallow but his organisation had faced up to the fact that retaining six teams would have put South African rugby at an even greater risk.
“We have six strategic imperatives for 2017 – two of the most critical of which are Springbok performance and financial sustainability,” he said.
“Retaining a number of under-performing teams in Vodacom Super Rugby makes no sense from a high performance or financial point of view. We no longer have the resources to support them to the required level.”
Roux said the large number of South Africans now playing overseas had hastened the decision: “There are about five or six Vodacom Super Rugby squads’ worth of South Africans playing overseas.
“In 2015, 257 South Africans appeared for leading teams overseas; last year it was 313 – including 65 Springboks. There were eight Van der Merwes, seven Du Preez’s and six Du Plessis’s alone! That has got to have had an impact on our competitiveness.”
The new format will see the Sunwolves move into the Australian Conference while the South African conference will continue to feature the Jaguares.
The winners of each conference plus another five teams with the greatest number of log points will qualify for the play-offs.
SA franchises will play teams from both the Australian and New Zealand conference every year although the duration of the available ‘window’ – between the end of the compulsory rest period and the start of the international season – means that there are not enough weeks to play all teams.
- 120 match regular season plus seven finals
- 15 teams
- Three conferences
- 18 rounds [16 matches per team, two bye weeks]
- Each team will play eight matches within its conference (four home and four away)
- Each team will play eight cross-conference matches – against four of the five teams from the other two conferences (four at home and four away)
- Each team will have played 12 of the other teams within the season (85% which is up from 70% in 2016).
- Eight team Finals Series: Three Conference winners and five wild card places – the next best performing teams after the Conference winners regardless of Conference.
SA Rugby said that it hoped it would be able to confirm its 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby participants by the end of June.
To further confuse teams ‘on the edge of selection’ this FAQ has been released:
Q: Which four SA teams will appear in the 2018 tournament? What mechanism will be used to decide?
A: The decision will start with the six current teams themselves as part of SA Rugby’s new franchise sub-committee which meets on Tuesday. All six Vodacom Super Rugby teams are members of the committee.
They will determine the criteria to be applicable to determine the four teams and from there a recommendation will be made to the Executive Council (Exco) for final approval by the General Council.
The next scheduled General Council meeting is not until 2 August but we understand the need for certainty among teams and players and we will schedule a special general meeting to make that decision as soon as the Franchise Committee and Exco have done their work.
Q: Why didn’t you drop the Sunwolves or Jaguares instead?
A: The decision has to be put in context. This was part of a broader ten-year strategic plan for SANZAAR – not just a knee-jerk reaction to a short-term issue.
Argentina are now a full partner of SANZAAR and their inclusion in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and Vodacom Super Rugby has added value to both competitions.
The potential for growth in Asia of rugby and SANZAAR competitions is significant. It remains a focus for the organisation and establishing a Japanese Super Rugby franchise is key to that strategy.
While South Africa had to admit that the challenges of sustaining six strong South African teams was unsustainable for SA Rugby.
Q: Aren’t you “killing rugby” in the affected regions/South Africa?
A: Professional, club and schools rugby will continue in those regions but there is no doubt that the affected franchises will face new challenges. But we know they will be performing against a background of a more vibrant and successful game as a whole – which we hope will have a ripple effect throughout all of rugby.
Young players will continue to emerge and have pathways to follow a rugby career as we have seen with hundreds of examples of players who had emerged from a school in one province but pursued a professional career in another. The list is very long – and that route is totally unaffected.
A South African team has not won the Super Rugby title for seven years and the spreading of talent across six franchises at a time when the lure of the Euro and Yen has never been stronger has changed our environment and we have to recognise and respond to that.
Q: Will the two “relegated” teams be paid compensation?
A: That possibility will be discussed at a committee level before a determination is made.
Q: Why didn’t Australia (rather than SA) drop two teams?
A: The question of the sustainability of six South African teams was a key factor while there was a broader ten-year strategic view which took into account market conditions of all members. Australia is in a highly competitive sports market and needs to retain as broad a footprint as possible; reducing to three Australian teams would damage not just Australian rugby but all of SANZAAR rugby.
Q: Why didn’t NZ drop a team?
A: Appetite for the competition in NZ has been good: TV and live audience figures have comfortably outperformed those for SA and Australia and there was no clear high performance imperative in terms of competitiveness as to Why a New Zealand should fall out.
Q: Is there a chance for the “relegated” teams to come back?
A: There is no formal mechanism in place but this is not the end of the story for Vodacom Super Rugby.
There will be changes in the years ahead but we have to get the competition right now before we can commit to anything else.
Q: Does this mean every team will play every other team in the new competition?
A: The format is being finalised but because of the size of the window teams will play 12 of the other 14 in log play.
Q: Did New Zealand lead the discussion and request that SA and Australia drop teams?
A: Absolutely not. This was part of a broader ten-year strategic view which all the partners shared.
Q: How long is the 15 team tournament in place for?
A: This format will be in place for the next three seasons, until the expiry of the current broadcast agreement in 2020.
Q: What will happen to the contracts of the players in the relegated teams?
A: The teams will not cease to exist and they will still have a minimum of 20 matches to play in 2018 (up to a maximum of 25). Contracts may have to be amended but as we hope to concentrate more good players in fewer franchises loan arrangements and transfers may occur.
Q: Aren’t you worried that you’re taking away the livelihoods of players and their families?
A: Unfortunately a career in professional sport has never come with a guarantee of a settled income – it’s one of the risks that comes with the rewards. The better players will be taken up by the 4 remaining franchises and those that aren’t will still have the opportunity to pursue provincial careers.
Q: Won’t this mean more players head overseas?
A: It will mean that the SA rugby community has more concentrated financial resources to contract the better players at fewer franchises but some others may head overseas – but as great a risk to us is the value of the rand against the Euro than the number of Vodacom Super Rugby teams we field.
Q: Have you spoken to SARPA/MyPlayers about this?
A: They have a representative on our Executive Council so have been inside the process from the very first stages that the strategic planning began.
Q: Two years ago SANZAAR said a 15-team competition was stale and needed freshening up. And now you’ve gone back to 15 – what’s different?
A: We were probably slow to recognise it, but the broadcast and viewing market was already changing two years ago and it has evolved rapidly in the time since the decision was taken. Globally both live audiences and broadcast audiences for sports events are under pressure or in decline as lifestyle and viewing habits change.
The fans are telling us that they want fewer matches but of a higher quality in which they are more engaged. When Super 12 launched its brand promise was essentially the best players in the world playing in the best competition in the world. That’s what we’re striving to get back to.
Q: Did you consider going back to 12?
A: We started with a clean slate and it was an option that was looked at but the reduction in the number of the games, the commercial value and in the elite playing pools in the core territories counted against it.
Q: Why not two divisions?
A: Vodacom Super Rugby is already the most logistically expensive team sport in the world and to create two divisions would add to that expense while the potential appeal of what could be regarded as a second-rate lower tier of the competition is far from proved.
Q: Why doesn’t South Africa leave SANZAAR and play against the European teams?
A: First of all you need a willing opponent and secondly you need a suitable window. Neither of those are currently in place or are likely to be in the short term. But SA Rugby has also taken a strategic decision that our future lies with SANZAAR – we may not be in the same time zone but we are in the same playing season and rugby cultural zone. SNAZAAR competitions are the best in the world and if we want the Springboks to be the best team in the world – which we do – then we have to play and excel in SANZAAR competitions.
Q: What do the broadcasters/sponsors say?
A: SuperSport have been with us in these conversations every step of the way and understand the imperatives and support the decision.
Q: Did the change of format affect the value of the broadcast deal?
A: That formed part of the conversation with broadcasters and as they shared our vision to increase the competitiveness of the competition and address fan concerns about integrity they have agreed to the new format without a variance on the value of the deal.
Q: Won’t removing two teams be a major blow to transformation/rugby as it reduces the elite player pool?
A: Springboks are made in schools and in this professional era the best of them are picked up by the major provinces before they have even left. That won’t change, it’ll just mean the competition is even more intense and the standards for success will be set higher. That applies to players whether they are white or black.
The requirements of our Strategic Transformation Plan are in place and if our franchises live up to those goals then our transformation plan will prosper.
Q: Won’t this reduce the choices for the national coach?
A: It’ll mean he’ll be choosing a Bok squad from a smaller, more competitive and hopefully more successful pool of about 160 players (rather than 240) – that should be enough.
Latest posts by Alan Straton (see all)
- Neil Powell on Blitzboks win in Dubai - 7 December 2019
- Analysing the Fourth Industrial Revolution - 7 December 2019
- Parliament and Public Works must stop the blame shifting and pay their Eskom debts - 7 December 2019
- Fishing for Christmas Joy - 7 December 2019
- Jo Black - 7 December 2019