Since the inaugural Super XV season whereby the format changed to a conference based system I have always had issues with it. The previous versions of Super rugby had a simple round robin where every team played every other team on a home and away basis on alternative years.
Fair? Well a darn lot fairer than the system as it currently stands. The simple fact that you have to qualify out of a conference, but a significant proportion of your log points are earned outside of your conference whilst not playing the same opponents as the teams within your conference does not make for equal opportunity.
The length of the Super XV has also encroached on the time available for the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier and historic competition to take its rightful place in the rugby calendar. The mere fact that Springboks aren’t available to participate in earlier rounds due to international commitment diminishes the importance of what was once the pride of South African rugby.
Many proposals and suggestions by pundits, supporters and the like will be and have been discussed over the recent seasons and I am sure many of them will have some common concerns.
The length of the Super Rugby season, the financial sustainability of the competition, the fatigue and injury effects and finally the format would fall under the main concerns.
Now it is common sense in any corporate environment that expenses have a direct influence on the sustainability and profitability of any venture, and when you consider the enormous costs involved to have 15 teams fly across the Indian ocean, then add accommodation to the mix, it is one area that should be of huge concern for SANZAR.
The effect that injury and fatigue has on players during a year where you can see a player having to front up in two of the world’s toughest and physically most demanding tournaments is clearly seen in the Springboks and Wallabies of last year, where it was virtually impossible for either national coach to put the same team out in successive weeks.
Take Jannie du Plessis as a prime example, he played 18 super Rugby matches, 12 tests and a couple of Currie Cup matches to boot. Professor Tim Noakes believes a professional rugby player should be limited to 1600 -1800 minutes of competitive rugby per year it is clear that a player in the position of Jannie du Plessis is going to suffer burnout.
So somehow SANZAR needs to find solutions to these isues.
I think I may have found the best possible proposal to answer many of the above issues.
Here is a link to the full proposal, unfortunately it is rather long and detailed and cannot be presented in full.
I will attempt to summarise the proposal
It is suggested that the Super Rugby competition expands to 24 teams, 8 teams per conference, but with the significant difference that it remains a closed conference system. The eight teams in each conference will play each other on a home and away basis only.
Up to this point it makes a lot of sense to me, firstly it can be seen as a Currie Cup premier competition with our top 8 provinces competing early in the year and regain its rightful place.
Secondly it means we don’t have to double up on fixtures, if you look at 2012, the Sharks and Stormers played each other 6 times, so the significance of games becoming more important and SARU does not have to “find a gap” in the calendar for the Currie Cup.
The proposal suggests that there must be a Semi final and final play off within the conference itself whereby the top 4 teams will participate.
The two finalists of each conference will then compete in a similar play off series as is currently the case. What is a bit puzzling though is the suggestion of how the seeding will take place.
The proposal suggests that the winner of the previous year’s Rugby championship will get seeding 1 and 4, the second placed nation will get seeding 2 and 5 and the last placed country seeding 3 and 6.
This is where this proposal fails in my opinion.
The one problem with having cross conference matches only at the end of the season and only for the play offs will not be attractive to broadcasters.
Some more thought needs to be put into getting the cross conference matches higher profile once the closed conference round robin has been completed.
My suggestion would be to have the top two teams of each conference qualify for a single round robin against the two qualifiers from the other two conferences, in essence a four week round robin.
The log points from the closed conference which will be carried over to the Super Sixes, are only those earned against the opponent that also qualifies from that conference.
So in essence your log for the Super sixes will consist of the results of six matches. Once completed the top 4 teams compete in Semi-finals and a final.
Due to the fact that the Closed Conference system can double up for the Currie Cup/ITM Cup/ ARC this will open up the calendar and the maximum number of games to be played for any team will be 14 round robin, 4 Super Sixes, 2 finals, a total of 20 matches in comparison to the Super XV and Currie Cup which requires 30 weeks currently.
Considering the 12 test matches on average being played by the Springboks, the total number of high quality and physically demanding rugby matches doesn’t increase when looking at how many matches Jannie du Plessis played, but the significant difference is that the Currie Cup regains its rightful place and the rugby year is shortened, plus of course we get to see all the top players playing in all the important matches.
It is financially more cost effective and there for should be more sustainable, the number of derby matches increase to 56 per conference, 168 in total, the Super Six matches add another 12 high octane, high quality matches, plus of course the 3 finals.
So in summary, having the closed Conferences, Super Sixes and finals will reduce travel and accommodation expenses, provide the broadcasters 183 matches rather than 125, should increase revenue and allow 8 teams in South Africa to be financially sustainable.
It will also ensure there is no doubling up of fixtures in South Africa, the players will get more time off, and ultimately the Currie Cup will gain significance.
Player management will of course play a significant role for player wellbeing.