The decision to reduce the number of teams competing in Super rugby in the near future makes sense because the current format clearly isn’t working.
The original strength-versus-strength format is the solution to remedy the Super rugby headache. In order to flourish, the competition needs to be shortened and teams must be culled because by the time we reach the final it’s a deflated affair.
The Southern Kings, Cheetahs and Melbourne Rebels are the franchises set to be relegated, but should Sanzar perhaps consider axing two Australian teams instead of another South African franchise?
The bottom line is five franchises are too many in a country that lacks player depth.
Nevertheless, if the Kings and Cheetahs are both axed from the competition we need to get our minds around the fact that if you are relegated you are not done and dusted. Relegation certainly poses challenges and you have to operate on a much smaller budget but it’s not a death sentence.
Cheetahs captain Francois Venter said that if his team was cut from the competition it would kill Free State rugby. However, I don’t ever foresee Free State rugby dying owing to its rich junior player base. And when the Lions were relegated from Super rugby it didn’t kill them, it made them stronger.
I believe we must stop looking at relegation as a disaster because it’s part of the natural development process of many sports teams. No team has a divine right to compete in a competition.
The principle of promotion and relegation is fairly new to the local rugby landscape but around the world it has been utilised effectively over a long period of time.
I currently serve as technical director to London Irish, who were relegated from the Aviva Premiership last season. This term the exiles have secured top spot in the championship and will have a shot at returning to the top table of English club rugby. For me, the threat of relegation and possibility of promotion offers a unique selling point to viewers – and it’s something that broadcasters in the UK have fully embraced.
I would suggest that the southern hemisphere needs to do something similar because the interest is waning in a competition that sees a top, middle and bottom tier of teams form after only a handful of weeks. Super rugby has become too predictable and must move with the times. Earning the right to compete at a higher level by winning promotion ensures a strength-versus-strength competition.
Moreover, it creates excitement among supporters and engenders a sense of hope within players.
The announcement from World Rugby of a global season from 2020 onwards is a massive step in the right direction.
Professional sport is all about figuring out annually who is the best in the world and, with the northern and southern rugby calendars set to be aligned, it’s not too fanciful to see the top two European Cup teams lining up against the top two Super rugby sides at some point.
The opportunity to have a north versus south battle has never been more fitting with five of the top eight teams on the world rankings hailing from the northern hemisphere.