Lead, SA!

Written by Jonathan Burt (VinChainSaw)

Posted in :Original Content, Super Rugby on 13 Sep 2013 at 12:27
Tagged with : , , , , , , , ,

Possibly the biggest changes to the professional game are currently afoot, with South Africa sitting in the middle of what could become a fascinating tug-of-war.

Long have there been whispers, press releases, threats, whispers and conjecture. Earlier this week the British and French rugby clubs made public their intention to break-away from the current premier club rugby competition in the Northern hemisphere, namely the Heineken Cup.

From a South African perspective, the timing is impeccable. At a time where there are serious negotiations underway with regards to the future of Super Rugby, and with the Australians seemingly pushing for a two pool Super Rugby championship (pushing SA into the Argentinian wilderness) and South Africa’s request for a sixth team seemingly being rebuffed by SANZAR, another door has possibly been opened.

It’s an open secret that there are tensions in the SANZAR alliance and for several years SARU has made overtures that they would look north if their demands were not met. Whilst there have always been questions about where the South Africans would fit into a northern hemisphere competition, through an incredibly fortuitous turn of events, that question has now been answered. Whilst not explicitly mentioned in the statement made by the Premier league earlier this week, the English and French clubs have announced they will be breaking away from the Heineken Cup and would establish their own competition, with teams from other countries being considered. The obvious implications are that they are referring to South Africa as she offers a lucrative market, competitive teams and is in the right time-zone.

There are massive benefits for South Africa here. At the very least it puts SARU back in the driving seat with regards to negotiations with SANZAR. As the biggest revenue generator in the alliance, and now with other options to explore, it is quite feasible that SARU will be able to play one side up against the other.

My opinion is that Super Rugby is a tired competition and continual expansion year after year is not serving to revitalise the competition, but rather the opposite; its diluting the game and the entertainment value offered to fans.

The benefits to the South African provinces in joining a northern Hemisphere competition are numerous. There will be a greater share of the revenue generated, which may just be enough for the provinces to be able to offer their players packages comparable to those currently on offer in Europe. The travel is easier, the games are on at better times and its fresh. Can you imagine the Sharks playing Toulouse in the Shark Tank? Or the Bulls taking on Leicester in Welford Road, Stormers versus Harlequins at the Twuickenham Stoop? Massive Wembley double-headers, like the London sides are now doing to open the season? I’m salivating at the prospect.

The obvious losers here are New Zealand. The Australians have long wanted a more integrated competition with the kiwis; one gets the impression they’d be happy if they got rid of South Africa altogether. The standard of rugby in New Zealand will doubtlessly slip if South Africa is not there to provide stiffer competition and toughen up their forward packs. The Australians are already on a nasty downward trend; this will only serve to exacerbate this.

In short, it’s all there to play for if SARU can get their strategic thinking right and can successfully negotiate their way through the conflicting wants and needs of all those involved.
Inclusion in a northern hemisphere competition, with fresh opposition and different challenges, will be massively exciting for both fans and players alike.

From a South African perspective, we’re sitting pretty, but there is another option, the Go Big or Go Home option.

The premise of the GBoGH option is thus: there have been no major changes to international club rugby competition, virtually since the day rugby went professional. The Super 10 was launched in 1995, as was the Heineken Cup. There’s been tinkering around the edges and expansion in both competitions over the years, but the basics have remained the same, one is a premier club competition in the northern hemisphere, with the other in the southern hemisphere and never the two shall meet.

Fortuitously, both are now falling to pieces at the same. The GBoGH option entails South Africa not breaking away from SANZAR, but rather SANZAR inviting the English and French to join the world’s first truly global club competition. It would be a competition that represented most of the world’s club elite, with the notable exception probably being Munster.
It would take some deft footwork by those holding the keys in the corridors of rugby power, but it would definitely be workable.

There is something in this for everyone – Super Rugby is stale and has been crying out for change for years; this could be it. The Australians want a tighter competition with New Zealand – let them have it. We could play in pools just like they have suggested, with SA joining the English and French clubs, Australia can play with New Zealand, Japan, Pacific Islands and anybody else they care to include. The English and French are happy – they now get to play in a strength versus strength competition against the best in the world and get to play in a competition free of the socialistic aspect that has plagued the international clubs competitions in Europe. They’ll pack out grounds in the UK and there players get to savour playing rugby in the Republic.

This does entail a lot of give-and-take, but professional rugby has long been due a radical shake-up. Once new deals are inked over the coming years, the chances of a truly global club competition will slowly vanish as vested interests and inertia take over. This is the chance for all involved to create something truly special. It’s an opportunity that is unlikely to come around again for a very long time.

And in the middle of it all sits South Africa, with the ability to fashion themselves a king-maker and lead the process of developing the professional game.

There will be large barriers to making this a reality, especially on the part of SANZAR I’d imagine, but my suggestion is as follows. The Heineken Cup is dead and Super Rugby is also at a cross-roads. The radical idea would be to do a one-off tournament next year, before the northern hemisphere clubs get pushed and locked into another multi-year deal with broadcasters, sponsors and the like.

Why not try it – just for one year. The crowds will be there, the sponsors will line-up and the television revenues have the potential to be enormous. If it doesn’t work, it’ll go down in history as an interesting experiment whereby the north-south debate was settled once and for all. Thereafter all can return to the status quo.
At the very least we’ll have a few months of novel, entertaining rugby, showcasing contrasting styles, played in varying conditions.

But if it works… we could potentially have a fascinating competition that could transform the club game and herald the next chapter in the story of the professional game.
At the very least it will make for exciting viewing and a change from the same old, same old dished up every year.


  • and of cause a whole lot of home games for rob to watch, :mrgreen:

  • Comment 1, posted at 13.09.13 12:49:32 by bobby 26 Reply
    Valued Sharksworld Supporter
  • Brilliant article!

    I personally would love to see a shake up, where we go north, especially since it will create renewed interest, when we play NZ in tests.

  • Comment 2, posted at 13.09.13 12:56:26 by Bump Reply

  • @Bump (Comment 2) :

    I really see this as an eventual inevitability.

    Without this sort of innovation, crowds will slowly but surely dwindle. Simply increasing the size and playing around with the format of rehashed tournaments is unsustainable.

    Remember how exciting it was to play the kiwi clubs for the first time back in the mid-nineties? This is the next natural progression. But this opportunity wont come around again fro a very long time.

  • Comment 3, posted at 13.09.13 13:00:13 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @bobby 26 (Comment 1) : amen!

  • Comment 4, posted at 13.09.13 13:02:03 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Well written Vin. And yes SA might be sitting pretty at the moment.

    I do have a few question. Have you seen what the teams in Europe look like? They are not filled with just French and English players. They have players from across the world. If we should join the North, what will our teams look like in 5 years time? Will it be filled with foreign players? How will that impact on the Boks? Will it be good or bad?

    There are more to consider than just club/provincial rugby here.

  • Comment 5, posted at 13.09.13 13:03:38 by Farlington Reply

  • @Farlington (Comment 5) :

    I think its net positive for us. SARU still has the power to limit foreign player numbers in our sides – only thing now is that our provinces will have bigger revenues and so could effectively negate the salary offers of the European clubs that are poaching our players.

    The English clubs are still very English, Saracens aside.

    I think it’ll also be good exposure for our players. Bok Rugby will evolve – it always has.

    The big positive here is SA could dicate terms and lead the process, as opposed to the way its done in SANZAR where the tail (Oz) wags the dog.

    End of the day though – this is a spectator sport, the rest be damned. There’s no point in worrying only about what will happen to the Boks if the rugby on offer is boring and no longer attracting the fans it should.

    I think this is a beeeeg positive for SA Rugby.

  • Comment 6, posted at 13.09.13 13:07:17 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • @Farlington (Comment 5) :

    And thanks for the compliment!

  • Comment 7, posted at 13.09.13 13:07:35 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Great article have to agree that nz rugby wil suffer the most from this ,australian teams look to be on a downward spiral, some new competition will keep things interesting for the coming years

  • Comment 8, posted at 13.09.13 13:10:38 by ivancb Reply

  • @VinChainSaw (Comment 6) : Fair enough, we are all getting bored and the North are also wanting a change.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s so crazy it might just work 😉

  • Comment 9, posted at 13.09.13 13:16:11 by Farlington Reply

  • This would still take massive re-organization to pull off – major issue being aligning the playing seasons. Can’t see English club teams being too keen to play games in SA in January, and likewise SA teams playing in UK in January.

  • Comment 10, posted at 13.09.13 13:18:07 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 10) :

    Agreed. But then the Heineken is already spread throughout the seaosn.

    A solution would be to play the SA games mid-year and the other games earlier or later to grab the spring or autumn in Europe.

    Not insurmountable problems in my humble opinion.
    And with the five strongest and richest countries in world rugby pulling the strings, I’m sure a solution will be found.

    We could even have a touring season in SA where we have 5 or 6 teams touring simultaneously. Then have the SA teams head north later/earlier in the year.

  • Comment 11, posted at 13.09.13 13:24:29 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Vinny, great article! Got us all talking about something we’ve all felt for a long time now..

  • Comment 12, posted at 13.09.13 13:34:59 by R Hayward Reply

  • We should run this by the Aussies, if they hate it, we know we’re onto a great idea and should fight tooth and nail to make it happen.

  • Comment 13, posted at 13.09.13 14:21:19 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Good read.

    Just a concern though SANZAR CEO, or whatever his title is, Greg Peters is on record that there WILL be a 6th SA team in the next format of SR when the new structure is announced.

  • Comment 14, posted at 13.09.13 14:27:15 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • @VinChainSaw (Comment 11) : Great article. This topic has generated a lot of talk at work. (Brilliant time killing distraction to the weekend where Springbok and Sharks rugby awaits) The English guys, here at least, would be amped to see SA clubs in the mix.

    What I’d give to see the Sharks playing at Twickenham in front of 80k spectators. 😉

  • Comment 15, posted at 13.09.13 14:27:32 by gregkaos Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 14) : that’s what concerns me. I understand SARU’s imperative here, but an 18-team Super Rugby competition is going to be a joke.

  • Comment 16, posted at 13.09.13 14:40:38 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Another concern of mine is if we go with the NH then how many teams will we have?

    If we have 6 we will play just as many games as the SR.

    If we have less then which premier competition will the Lions play in? 😉

  • Comment 17, posted at 13.09.13 15:02:29 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • A special opportunity to increase revenue for South African teams. This could create an opportunity for South Africa to be the only powerhouse left that would be able to hold onto their players and select top performers (a few) playing abroad (Playing in the same competition). Although it will be sad to let go of Australia and New Zealand, I feel it is a sure bet for securing the future of rugby in South Africa.

  • Comment 18, posted at 13.09.13 15:05:21 by soutie Reply

  • I couldn’t care much for the ozzies and sticking with the kiwis on sentiment only is not feasible anymore, the bottom-line has to be met – time to go for the money.

    Something has to be done to save our rugby, as all our players are headed overseas.

    More money = bigger squads = less fatigue = less injuries = better rugby

  • Comment 19, posted at 13.09.13 15:19:56 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • Love the arti and the thinking!

    Now if you’ll excuse, me I have to leave my keyboard before I drool all over the thing thinking about the Sharks vs Toulouse at the Stadium Municipal.

    A shit, too late! :mrgreen:

  • Comment 20, posted at 13.09.13 15:39:13 by rhineshark Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Spirit of Rugby
  • Good article Vinnie, lots of food for thought.

    I agree….lets try it.

  • Comment 21, posted at 13.09.13 16:31:53 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
    Salmonoid the Subtle
  • Would the end of the SANZAR agreement, not also end the Rugby Championship?

  • Comment 22, posted at 13.09.13 17:47:33 by Ossa Reply

  • @Ossa (Comment 22) : Well then we can start a tri-nations between the Bokke, England and France imagine the prospect of touring new zealand or new zealand touring here with week games and everything just another great thing that can come out of this. Will be sad too leave the all blacks behind though.

  • Comment 23, posted at 13.09.13 18:13:35 by BR Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld
  • Nice article Vinnie! Exciting times! If we can’t get the S12 back(which I doubt) then I think this is the right move.

  • Comment 24, posted at 13.09.13 18:21:31 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • @BR (Comment 23) : good point, but we don’t do the mid week games anymore anyways. Thought that was coming back? Pdiv did it once, but then nothing after.

  • Comment 25, posted at 13.09.13 18:24:11 by Ossa Reply

  • @Ossa (Comment 25) : to my mind, that was the best part of tours… seeing the combinations come together over a succession of non-test fixtures

  • Comment 26, posted at 13.09.13 18:26:48 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • @robdylan (Comment 26) : I liked the novelty. would love for it to come back again for good

  • Comment 27, posted at 13.09.13 18:35:23 by Ossa Reply

  • @Ossa (Comment 27) :

    I dont think we’ll see that int he international game again. The risk of injuries, in games that dont count, is just too high for any coach to entertain.

    Its sad, but such is the modern-day game.

  • Comment 28, posted at 13.09.13 18:36:52 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • Considering the previous comments, I’m probably gonna get some shit for this, but I would rather we stay in the South. It definitely needs a revamp, but no longer being in competition with NZ and Oz would be something to miss. There was an article a while back (not sure who wrote it) about a competition with 20 teams (5 NZ, 5 Oz, 6 SA, 1 Arg, 1 Jap, 1 Pacific, 1 other) consisting of a premier competition and a lower level (each 10 teams). Each year the bottom 2 from the premier are relegated with the top 2 of the lower level promoted. This would shorten the season and make things more competitive and interesting. I take pride in being one of the Southern Hemisphere teams, it’s special (even if it doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to).

  • Comment 29, posted at 13.09.13 18:45:04 by David12246 Reply

  • @David12246 (Comment 29) :

    Why not include the Frencha nd English instead of Japan, PI, etc?

  • Comment 30, posted at 13.09.13 18:48:15 by VinChainSaw Reply
  • It’s possible, but I think the season is a more significant problem than you are making it out to be. If we were to do that though, having pools wouldn’t be nice. If we based the pools on region we would be playing the same teams every year. If we mixed them up the travel would be ridiculous. The reason it works in the North is because they are all on the same time (roughly). We would need to do the same 2 league comp. in my opinion.

  • Comment 31, posted at 13.09.13 19:19:59 by David12246 Reply


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