6 Apr 2017

Can Super Rugby be saved?

9:55 am on 6 April 2017

Super Rugby is set for a shake-up with several teams facing the chop and SANZAAR expected to announce their decision this week.

A young fan awaits the Hurricanes arrival in Civic Square.

A young fan awaits the Hurricanes 2016 victory parade arrival in Civic Square. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Speculation and rumour have been rife, but the consensus is that two South African and one Australian team are set to go.

There's agreement too that the Super Rugby competition is broken, but is it beyond repair?

Despite the odds being stacked against them, New Zealand teams keeping on winning.

Hurricanes player Beauden Barrett celebrates scoring a try during the
Super Rugby Final between the Hurricanes and Lions.

Hurricanes player Beauden Barrett celebrates scoring a try during the Super Rugby Final between the Hurricanes and Lions. Photo: PhotoSport

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles with the Super Rugby trophy following the win over the Lions in Wellington.

Hurricanes captain Dane Coles with the Super Rugby trophy following the win over the Lions in Wellington. Photo: PhotoSport

Under the current format, at least one Australian and one South African team are guaranteed home advantage in the playoffs, regardless of where they finish compared to the New Zealand sides.

The draw also means South Africa teams often get an easier run by avoiding kiwi sides altogether before the finals.

On top of that, there's the travel.

Sir Graham Henry.

Sir Graham Henry. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Despite the problems, former All Blacks and Blues coach Graham Henry is advocating the competition be expanded rather than reduced - but with two divisions and promotion-relegation.

"I'd like to see two sections, having a top section and a second section, involving teams from America, perhaps two, some Pacific Island teams and a team from Canada.

"They're still growing the game but the top teams are playing each other and the developing teams are playing each other and you have automatic promotion/relegation every year," said Henry.

"Countries like the United States need the opportunity to expand the game.

"So if they were involved in a professional league with two teams, one on the west and one on the east coast, perhaps Boston and San Francisco, and a team out of Vancouver and look after the Island boys as well, so that you're expanding the game," he said.

"It also would expand the revenue with television in Canada and the United States in particular and you're going to get a better quality of rugby, because the top teams are playing each other home and away and everyone will play one another and it'll be better off all around, you get a higher quality of rugby and give the developing countries an opportunity to play."

Former All Black wing and former Blues and Japan coach Sir John Kirwan would like to see the current format revert to a traditional round robin where the teams all play each other once and the top four or six contest the playoffs.

Sir John Kirwan

Sir John Kirwan Photo: Photosport

However he's also a fan of bigger thinking.

"Do we try and do something like the Champions League where the Argentineans play (among themselves) the Japanese play etc and the top two sides in those local competitions then play the top sides in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

"For example you might play a normal competition for six weeks and then break into a 'Super' competition where these guys play in," he said.

Though he believes SANZAAR won't be so bold.

"Despite all the grand ideas I think in the short term they'll (SANZAAR) cull a couple of teams and see how that works out."

The former Wallaby Peter Fitzsimons believes the competition is in its death throes.

"The current format is simply not working, I mean I can't quite follow the whole conferences thing. You know you've got the Kiwi conference the, Australian conference, the South Africa, Argentina, Japan in there. It's so fractured I just can't follow it."

Peter FitzSimons

Peter FitzSimons Photo: AAP

And Fitzsimons concedes Australia doesn't have enough talent to field five teams.

"Up against Kiwi teams Australian teams have won... dot three, carry one, subtract two, let me just see... none, zero, they haven't beaten a New Zealand team this year. It's a very hard spectacle to sell, 'come and see Australian teams flogged by kiwis'."

The Perth based Western Force seem the leading Australian contender to be dropped, though Fitzsimons said even the Australian Union don't know who's going.

"I talked to somebody high up in the ARU the other day and put it on him and said, 'Tell me, tell me now', and the basic answer was 'It's an overturned can of spaghetti', no one knows."

Clear as mud then. So what about South Africa?

South African rugby journalist Ken Borland says the Port Elizabeth based Southern Kings demise is a fait accompli and the Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein, are set to join them.

Cheetahs winger Sergeal Petersen.

Cheetahs winger Sergeal Petersen. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"It's a faulty competition the whole format lacks integrity. The fact that some South African sides won't play any New Zealand teams this year is already creating an unlevel playing field. So clearly the format is the problem and to solve that some teams are going to be sacrificed."

But would a 15 team competition revive the tournament? Fitzsimons believes it would give it a fighting chance.

"If the competition was comatose, and it is, I don't think that doing that will immediately spark it back to life and have it running around the block again. However I do think it will apply some electric charge to the chest of Super Rugby, because right now it's dead."

Hopefully SANZAAR can give it the kiss of life.

Waylon Murray (c) of the Kings takes the tackle.

Waylon Murray (c) of the Kings takes the tackle. Photo: PHOTOSPORT