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No change coming to Super Rugby format in 2017

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Super Rugby’s administrators Sanzaar are set to retain the unloved 18 team format for the 2017 Super Rugby season but changes could come in 2018.

The administrators have spent the past week talking to involved national union CEOs, team CEOs and coaches, rights holder broadcasters and SANZAAR operational staff in Sydney but have been unable to sign off on any improvements to the format.

This means that the finals qualification process, which is widely seen as being unfair, will be retained to ensure that each of the original Sanzar countries gets at least one home play off.

The original idea was to award South Africa, Australia and New Zealand each a home play off was to ensure that there was continued TV interest in all three countries going into the play offs.

However this means that fans feel that the integrity of the competition has been compromised as this season for example the Highlanders and Chiefs were relegated to fifth and sixth place in the play offs and despite having won more games and earned more points than the Brumbies and Stormers so the New Zealand pair lost any chance of home advantage.

The draw also came in for criticism as the Stormers did not play any of the New Zealand teams – who were the most competitive – until the play offs. In comparison the Lions played all of the New Zealand teams but still made the final.

This led to widespread criticism of the format as the Stormers were perceived to have been given an easier draw than others and were still given home advantage in the finals.

Super Rugby fans around the world have called for the number of teams to be reduced rather than expand and the Super12’s round robin format to be brought back but Sanzaar remain focused on a conference model which will allow them to expand the tournament in the future.

Rugby in Europe is growing stronger financially by the day and Sanzaar face the difficult task of generating the most money out of selling their TV rights so that the funds can be used by the Unions to keep talent at home.

However, Sanzaar have a history of chasing quantity over quality and are now paying the price as viewer and attendance figures are dropping and teams in South Africa and Australia are suffering the consequences financially from waning interest.

Even though expansion still appears to be the long term goal, Sanzaar are starting to talk of cutting teams from Super Rugby.

The new franchises of the Sunwolves (Japan) and Jaguares (Argentina) are not under threat while New Zealand’s five teams are also understood to be safe.

Australia had the benefit of a 148% increase in revenue from the new broadcast deal but it has been widely reported that Australian Rugby’s finances are already struggling severely and there are issues with the Force, Rebels and the Brumbies.

There is much debate over whether Australia has the depth for five Super Rugby teams. Cutting a team could provide more depth and reduce one team’s wage bill but it would also mean a reduction in their share of broadcast monies.

In South Africa the recently liquidated Southern Kings (EP Rugby) are in danger of being cut as are the Cheetahs who have only made the play offs once in 10 years of Super Rugby.

After a week of meeting with all of the stakeholders – except the fans – Sanzaar still have several options on the table and no firm decisions have been made on the future of Super Rugby.

New Zealand wanted a fairer play offs format to be brought in but that South Africa and Australia were against it according to Sanzaar CEO Andy Marinos. For changes to be implemented all four partners (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina) need to agree.

Under the current confusing geographical format South Africa are guaranteed two home play offs and Australia one regardless of how many points their teams earn in the overall standings which is why they are reluctant to give this benefit up – even if it does give the tournament more credibility.

“It’s fair to say there’s absolutely no appetite from a South African or Australian perspective to have any change to the finals series in the short term,” Marinos told Stuff.

“It was very much New Zealand who brought that agenda to the table. In terms of 2017, I wouldn’t see any change happening.”

“The best two teams (Hurricanes and Lions) ended up playing in the final – teams ranked one and two – and I believe the best team won. The 135th game of the season also determined the finals structure so suggestions that the finals format was broken were taken a bit too far.”

In terms of cutting teams from Super Rugby, Marinos played his cards close to his chest but admitted that they have been looking at formats with fewer teams.

“We’ve looked at modeling down to 12, 14, 16 and 15. That’s all part of the work that has to be done. If you’re looking at reduction you’ve got to look at all different models. That was presented to everybody,” said Marinos.

“And then you look at opportunities for future expansion. A fair bit of work is still to be put in yet.”

Marinos inherited the problematic Super 18 format from his predecessor Greg Peters and to his credit he has brought in consultants Accenture to review their systems but his hands are largely tied by the individual unions who have to approve changes.

If agreement on the way forward cannot be agreed then the status quo will remain and interest in it’s tournaments will continue to fade.

“It’s not an easy process and there are very differing views in all of the markets but there is a collective will towards getting and optimal structure,” said Marinos.

“I’ve emphasised to everybody that if Sanzaar is looking to expand they need to do so from a strong base so our short-term focus has to be on making sure our current teams are competing.”

There is support to include the Pacific Islands at some point but while the quality of rugby they will bring to the tournament is not under question but there is concern over whether they will have the commercial model to retain their players in the region and to finance a Super Rugby team.

“There’s been a registered interest out of that market and New Zealand have been particularly keen on furthering discussion on that. They are an important part of the southern hemisphere and for years have delivered quality players.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a question mark around their high performance capability but what commercial model is going to be there to underpin it?”

Consultants Accenture will deliver their proposals for the 10-year plan in November after which Sanzaar can make final decisions.

Sanzaar will announce the 2017 Super Rugby format and fixture list on Tuesday 20 September.

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2 Comments

  1. Daniel

    16th September 2016 at 2:38 pm

    1, 2, 3 .. Everyone bang heads on wall.

    No changes? Goodness, what does it take a bullet to the brain to figure this one out. We all know there needs to be changes.

    Silly format dreamed up by some fancy doctor I’m sure. Well, as usual the politicians of the game don’t listen to the supporters and will end up compromising quality over dodge back room deals.

    There goes another great sport lost to money, greed and political agenda.

  2. Frans

    25th January 2017 at 12:49 pm

    The new format should go. I have suggested previously that the size of participating countries should be changed to 20 teams. This means 4 All Black Teams, 5 Aussie Teams, 5 SA Teams. Keep Sunwolves & Jaguares. Add Fiji, a second South American Team (The deserve it). Namibia as a Winldcard and add a Samoan Team.

    Let The Tournamnet be played over a period of 2 Years during which all of the teams face each other. Only allow a set amount of transfers mid season.

    I know certian teams would be butchered, but if a system like this is kept for 10 Years without changes it would settle and become better over time. The advantages of these changes would mean: a)A Bigger Fan Base b) Bigger income for Clubs c) A Stable Format d) Players will have more rest days. e) More consistant teams. f) Mid season transfers will revitalize teams. g)Longer running contracts. h) Introduction of a Year one Final will keep intrest alive.

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