Talk in the media this morning centred around plans to expand the Southern Hemisphere showpiece in 2016 to 18, or even 20 teams. SANZAR CEO, Greg Peters confirmed that a possible expansion is on the cards where the untapped markets of the USA and Japan are most likely to be included as it offers the best possible commercial or monetary returns to SANZAR’s current three partners, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Although we must accept that money is what ultimately drives the game, SA Rugby has to realise that the current, and even expanded version of Super Rugby is just not sustainable in the long term not only on our players, but also from a monetary point of view.
It has become very apparent in recent years that players opt to leave South Africa not only for a bigger pay-cheque, but also as a means of self-preservation or extending their careers.
The issue is not solely the amount of rugby being played, but the enormous geological area Super Rugby covers resulting in thousands of miles being clocked up by players annually travelling from one continent to the next. Apart from time-zones that are crossed, travel time and jetlag eats into recovery time for players between games which is not spent on physio tables or swimming pools but sitting upright for 12 to 16 hours in airplane seats. Physically and psychologically our players pounded into the ground, and decisions by players like Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez and many more will soon become the norm leaving for foreign shores in the interest of self-preservation.
The problem of course with losing these high calibre players is that local structures eventually suffers. Jurie Roux was recently quoted in saying that they do not particularly see this as a problem because for every Habana that leaves, a new one can take his place locally. It is a strange statement. Players like Habana, Du Preez and Fourie are not simply plucked out of nowhere, it take years for players to be developed and coached to that level and if we start losing these star players quicker than what we produce them, the scales will eventually tip and a breaking point will be reached. This also does not even take into account the intellectual and financial investment made into these players which is now lost to SA Rugby and brings in millions of Rands to foreign clubs leeching off the hard work and hours put in by our local coaches and unions.
The only real benefit Super Rugby brings to South African rugby is the constant exposure to the best players in the world between three countries consistently ranked in the top 5 in the world rankings. But there is nothing to suggest that the introduction of South Africa, and possibly Argentina (who is treated like the orphaned cousin by rugby powers) to Northern Hemisphere competitions won’t strengthen these leagues tremendously and bring a lot of intensity (not like it does not exist already in competitions like the Heineken Cup of course).
Other benefits of considering rather looking north includes the obvious financial benefit and exchange rates, the competition and games being played in premier timeslots thanks to the time zone problems becoming a thing of the past, and of course the ease of movement for players between teams in a centralised competition structure between north and south where those players will not be ‘lost’ to South African rugby.
It does mean that seasons both north and south of the equator will need to be adjusted slightly but given we already play rugby for 11 out of 12 months, these changes should be minimal.
This will not go down well with our SANZAR partners who will be left with Japanese and US markets to fill the commercial gap South Africa would have left, but it is time to be selfish and ensure decisions we make now is for the benefit of SA Rugby’s future.
In any event, we could always resume the SANZAR partnership for tests following the conclusion of the international provincial competitions.
Super Rugby has come to its natural end in its current form, and while it assisted South African and its SANZAR partners well since the late 90’s, it is time to move on.