SANZAAR announced its proposed changes to Super Rugby on Sunday, that will come into effect as of 2018. The Southern Hemisphere’s governing body is set to reduce the number of teams in the competition from 18 to 15, with two South African, and one Australian franchise set for the axe. The sides rumored to go are said to be the Western Force, the Cheetahs and the Eastern Cape’s very own Southern Kings.
The new structure will comprise of three conferences as it did between 2011 and 2015, with a New Zealand, Australia and South Africa among them. The Sunwolves from Japan will partake in the Australian conference as the fifth side, while Argentina’s Jaguares will join the South African brigade.
These changes are a backlash to the dwindling crowd numbers experienced over the past two seasons of Super Rugby, and the decrease in quality among too many games. The majority of the matches in Super Rugby are totally one-sided, with too many franchises in the competition just there to “make up the numbers”. The frustratingly complicated current format has also contributed to the lack of public interest, with many fans simply not having the time to read up about, and learn it.
Jurie Roux, the CEO of SA Rugby, responded to the competition reboot. “Fans, media and broadcasters have spoken and we have listened to them. The 18-team Vodacom Super Rugby competition has not worked and we had to face up to that hard fact. The integrity of the format and the lack of competitiveness in too many matches were major issues that needed addressing.
“From a South African rugby high performance perspective, we’ve had to acknowledge that the dilution of talent and resources across six franchises – at a time when rand weakness has led to more departures to Europe and Japan – has seriously affected our ability to compete across the board.”
“This decision has not been an easy one and we recognize the difficulty associated with reducing the number of teams in Australia and South Africa. Naturally we understand that there will be some very disappointed franchises but the tournament’s long-term future and the economic reality of the business at present is something that had to be addressed.”
The Cheetahs seriously lack the financial backing and resources that the other SA franchises enjoy, while the Southern Kings have lost 30 of the 37 matches they have played in the competition. It is for these reasons that they will most likely be the South African teams to be culled, when the final decision is made by the end of June.
Charl Crous, COO of the Southern Kings, had this to say; ““No decision has been made on that question as yet. Various options on the way forward will have to be assessed.
“As advised by SA Rugby, the Franchise Committee will first consider the criteria on which the decision is to be made. After that, both the Executive Council and General Council will take a view before any announcement is made. At the moment, we can only control what we can control and that is out on the field where I believe Deon Davids’ team have continued to show an upward curve this season.
We are a professional organisation that takes pride in what we do and we will continue to remain focused on bringing credit to the Southern Kings and the province of the Eastern Cape. Only once a decision has been reached by the SA Rugby General Council will we be in any position to comment on the future.”
Super Rugby Format (effective as of 2018)
- New Zealand (Crusaders, Highlanders, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues)
- Australia (four Australian franchises TBC, Sunwolves)
- South Africa (four SA franchises TBC, Jaguares)
- 120 matches played during regular season (including 7 playoff matches)
- Three conferences comprising of 15 franchises
- 18 rounds, each side will benefit from two byes during this period
- Each franchise will play four home, and four away fixtures within their respective conferences
- Each franchise will also play eight matches against sides from other conferences (four from each respective conference; with half played at home and half away)
- Each franchise will play 12 of the others within the campaign
- Eight franchises will qualify for the play-offs (three conference winners as well as five wild card places)
- Three conference winners will host three of the quarterfinals, with fourth-best side (based on log points) hosting the fourth