How Sanzaar can fix the troubled Super Rugby competition
Last updated 15:51, July 11 2018
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“Given how dire things have become, how do SANZAAR fix things?”
Sanzaar are due soon to map out the future of their troubled Super Rugby competition beyond 2020.
Since 2011, Super Rugby has used conference formats that were designed to reduce travel, give more local derbies and extend the length of the season, providing more games and thus earning Sanzaar more money.
Along with the conferences came further expansion. Since 2016, Super Rugby has extended beyond the three original countries into Argentina and Japan.
But however noble they thought they were being, expansion and conferences have caused Super Rugby a number of problems – problems that have left the competition in a dire state.
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The biggest problems are around the format and the insistence that conference winners be granted automatic entry into the playoffs with home advantage.
Things reached a whole new level of stupidity with the 18 team version, with farcical scenes in 2017 where the Lions qualified first for the playoffs while avoiding the NZ teams until that stage, and with the Brumbies also being granted a home playoff with fewer points than all of the NZ teams.
Sanzaar were forced to admit the 18 format couldn’t continue and after some difficulty, particularly in Australia, were able to reduce the competition back to 15 teams with a similar conference format to the one used between 2011-15.
Under a conference format, the focus is as much about the local derbies and as it is about playing the other teams.
This means that the draw can become imbalanced, particularly if one or more of the conferences is perceived to be weaker.
Along with the insistence that conference winners gain home advantage into the playoffs, things have become messy and as a result, viewership and attendance numbers have declined.
So, given how dire things have become, how do Sanzaar fix things?
They need to work out what they want Super Rugby to be. In the beginning it was a competition designed to find the best franchise out of three nations.
Now it seems to be more about lining the pockets of the bigwigs and keeping the broadcasters in each country happy with a rigged playoff format that rewards mediocrity.
In New Zealand, it appears to be punishing the players too much and increasing the number of injuries in the teams.
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“Kieran Read was the latest player to call for a return to a proper round robin format and he won’t be the last.”
For a while now Sanzaar have been making decisions based on making money ahead of common sense and this has seen them dig themselves a big hole that they’re struggling to get out of.
Despite the recent reduction, a leaked document showed they were considering expanding into the USA for the next broadcast deal, an expansion that could easily backfire on them like the 18 team format did.
Kieran Read was the latest player to call for a return to a proper round robin format and he won’t be the last. He is one of a small handful of players now who were active in Super Rugby’s round robin days and so he knows the benefits of the round robin and the downsides of the conferences better than anyone.
The round robin format was highly successful and it ensured the best teams were in the playoffs. It also meant that everyone played everyone else, eliminating the perception of an easier draw for some and a tougher one for others.
This is the format Super Rugby desperately needs to return to from 2020 and beyond, otherwise this once great competition could end up dead and buried.
– Stuff Nation
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