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Super 18 is 'bizarre, complicated & convoluted'

Australian Rugby Union Boss Bill Pulver has leaked details of the new format

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Article Published: Wednesday 30 April 2014|

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SANZAR's proposed model for Super Rugby from 2016 has been slammed by fans across the board and one official in Australia has called it "bizarre, complicated & convoluted".

Australian Rugby Union Boss Bill Pulver leaked details of a proposed format which makes little sense to fans who still struggle to understand the current format.

The new 18 team format lacks balance and integrity and on hearing the formula fans online have vowed to stop watching Super Rugby if the new format goes ahead in 2016.

SANZAR who manage Super Rugby on behalf of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Rugby Unions have agreed on a proposed format which will see the current 15 teams plus three more teams split between four conferences.

Instead of the current three geographically based conferences containing five teams each there will be four conferences.

The Australian and New Zealand Conferences will retain their five teams each but the five South African teams as well as the Southern Kings, and Argentine team and another team - possibly from Asia - will be split into two pools of four.

One of the South African conferences will play the teams in the New Zealand Conference and the other South African Conference will play the teams in the Australian Conference. This arrangement will be alternated year on year.

This means that four of the South African teams will not play the New Zealand teams for a whole year. For instance the Bulls will only play the Crusaders every second year.

The format has four of the South African teams only playing the Australian teams every second year.

Instead of playing the current 16 regular season matches teams would play 15 matches but due to the differences between the sizes of conferences one of the South African teams will have an easy qualification route to the play offs as each conference winner will be guaranteed a place in the play offs.

Currently teams play all of the teams in their own conference twice - on a home and away basis - and then four of the five teams in the Australian and New Zealand conferences.

Under the new proposed format the Australian teams would play two fewer local derbies but they would play against each of the NZ teams every year.

Australian Rugby is desperate for more money and the home and away derby matches brought in with the 2011 expansion deal have been a big boost to the Australian market. They will however each lose the gate money from one home derby match every year under the proposed format and Australia's cash strapped franchises are not in the least bit happy with this.

Most of the broadcast money from the SANZAR deal is generated in South Africa as matches start in the morning and finish in the early evening. In comparison in Australia and New Zealand matches start in the early afternoon or evening and are played through the night. Many of these matches are not followed by fans in Australasia as they are in the middle of the night while in South Africa they are prime time viewing.

The new proposed format increases the number of matches per season from 125 to 142 and as South Africa will have two conferences SANZAR can sell more matches to broadcasters in the money making South African time zones.

ARU Boss Pulver said that the Super 18 format was a proposed format and that consideration was still being given to a vastly less complicated 17-match season in which every team plays every team.

This format was highly successful in the Super 12 and Super 14 but did lead to South African teams being on the road for up to six weeks. Teams would play every other team with home advantage being changed between the teams year on year.

While this format guarantees integrity as every team has an equal route to the final it does come with a cost to player welfare.

"One of the objectives we're trying to achieve is player welfare so that we don't have too much travel, but the travel component of such a season (where every team played every other team) would be brutal," Pulver told The Australian.

"At the moment we don't play every other team in one season, so there is a precedent."

One of the Australian Super Rugby franchise executives has blasted the four-conference model and described it as "bizarre, complicated and convoluted".

"It's a competition that would sit quite comfortably with the 206-page law book of the International Rugby Board," he said.

"We already have a highly complicated game and there is nothing about this competition that is simple."

The Australian says that they understand that the broadcasters have serious reservations about the 18-team model as they are aware that the fans still haven't got their heads around the teams that make up Super Rugby even though it has been around since 1996.

Many fans in Australia still don't know where the Cheetahs, Lions or Bulls are based. Adding three new teams could confuse fans further and drive them away.

There is also concern that the new teams will affect the integrity the tournament as they could be whipping boys for the established teams.

Every time that SANZAR has brought in an expansion team they have finished last in their debut season - Western Force in 2006, the Melbourne Rebels in 2011 and the Southern Kings in their one-off season last year.

Bringing in three new teams who have no experience at Super Rugby level all at once could seriously impact on the quality of rugby in what SANZAR like to call "the best provincial competition in the world".

Broadcasters are said to be concerned that an Argentina team could struggle and finish at the bottom end of the table and this would make it hard to sell Rugby Championship Tests later in the year against the Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks.

The Pumas were included in the Rugby Championship in 2012 and in their second year they played at home in front of stadiums that were far from being sold out. If the national team can't sell out a stadium it is less likely that a Super Rugby team will be able to.

Pulver will meet with the Australian Super Rugby franchises on Thursday and it is unclear what will happen if he cannot convince them to support the 18 team model.

One scenario is that Australia could argue that as the three SANZAR partners cannot agree on an expanded format the existing format should be retained.

The current format drains the Australian franchises so for the current format to be retained for the next five years SANZAR would have to convince broadcasters to up their broadcast fee without being given an increase in amount of content.

This has not happened yet as with every broadcast deal to date SANZAR have increased the number of teams or matches in order to bring in more money.

This would be problematic for South Africa as the government built the Southern Kings stadium in Port Elizabeth and SARU promised them they would put a Super Rugby team in the stadium after the 2010 world cup.

South Africa have demanded that SANZAR include the Kings in Super Rugby and as they bring in the most money the organizers had to agree.

If SARU won't stand down on their demand for a sixth team and Australia can't agree on a format that does not financially drain their clubs there would be a stalemate which could bring about the end of Super Rugby.

In that event Australia and New Zealand could be forced into forming a Trans-Tasman competition - which is Australia's preferred option - that would leave South Africa out in the cold.

Europe is not an option for South Africa in the immediate future. The Top 14 clubs in France have just signed a record breaking new broadcast deal and a new European (Heineken) Cup deal has been agreed over the last month and three new tournaments will be launched next year.

While European Rugby has never been stronger financially their Southern Hemisphere counterparts are cash strapped and struggling to survive.

Last week Repucom released viewing figures for Super Rugby in South Africa which were down almost 10% on last year showing that interest in Super Rugby is waning. Early feedback from fans on the confusing Super 18 format suggests it will do more a lot more harm than good and could even kill off Super Rugby.

 
 
 
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