Super Rugby in 2021
April 29th, 2020
Let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise that Super Rugby as we know it, is kaput.
There’s been plenty of media around this and with so much speculation going on, under the current circumstances and with the pre-Covid 19 talk around SA going a different way anyway, let’s run with the concept that South African involvement is no longer tenable.
What is everyones’ preferred model for 2021? Heaps of different things have been suggested, from a ‘super-charged’ season-long NPC (I’d love to see it this season in lieu of an abbreviated NZ-only Super Rugby comp), to a NZ and Australian comp, to the latter plus Argentina and then also something involving Japan and/or the Pacific Island nations.
I’m not going to go through why each of these models would or wouldn’t work. I have a clear favourite, although a few moons have to align for it to happen.
What’s certain is that any comp will involve five Kiwi franchises and at least four Australian teams. I say at least four because this could be a window of opportunity for the Western Force. It should also involve the Jaguares. Last years’ beaten finalists have proven their worth as competitors and probably now as a drawcard, and we’d need the income from Argentinian TV rights. So that’s 10 or 11 sides.
Without SA which provided the bulk of the all-important TV rights monies, we need another large nation with an interest, a playing base, finances and within striking distance of the South Pacific region. None of the Island nations fit that bill. The solution is obvious: Japan.
Problem is, it’s been tried and for whatever reason didn’t work (for Saanzar at least). But this isn’t now Saanzar. It could however be Janzar. As long as this new iteration of SR didn’t clash with the Top League, I think it could be put to the JRU that they could enter 4-5 Kiwi-style franchises made up of 3-4 Top League sides each (I think there are now 16?). It lengthens their season for sure, but no more than ours, or Australia’s, and let’s be honest, the physicality of the Top League isn’t to the same level of SR, and possibly not even quite to the level of the NPC, so this season isn’t going to break guys. An incentive could be a commitment to regular games between Japan, NZ, Australia and Argentina, possibly even entry into the Rugby Championship in lieu of their bunnies South Africa.
Surely a heavy rather than half-hearted Japanese involvement in SR and TRC would yield financial dividends and secure the future of these competitions and help us to retain players. It also opens up the possibility of the 4-5 Japanese teams signing a limited number of NZ players (on a ‘sabbatical’ basis) who could still be available for NZ, rather than losing them to European clubs. A bonus could be that these guys - if not selected for NZ - then come back and play NPC.
In an ideal world I’d like to see the Force return, although it does worry me how thin Australia’s playing stocks would be when split five ways, plus five Japanese teams and the Jaguares (I could imagine though the Argentine RU could argue for another team or teams). That’d be 16 sides. It’d be a round robin, but I’d have two bye weekends for each side starting maybe two to three rounds in and completed with two to three rounds to go. This makes it a 17 week round robin and gives you a start and finish when you don’t have any messy games-in-hand disparity. There wouldn’t be any garbage conference systems and my finals series would be eight teams over three weeks (QF, SF and final). Total length 20 weeks. Let’s say we had this comp this year, starting on Friday the 14th of February it would be completed on Saturday the 27th of June. A week off and then we host an in-bound tour for 3-4 weeks and get into TRC at the end of July or early August perhaps after another small gap. All going well, the last few weeks of the NPC we have full-strength provinces.
In terms of time zones, Japan works well for Australia and NZ but we would potentially lose some audience in Europe as games in SA were at a good time for them. The gains in Japan could outweigh that loss though.