Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Super Rugby: Argentina and Singapore to join in 2016

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An expanded Super Rugby competition is to come into effect in 2016. The existing fifteen teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are to be joined by a sixth South African franchise while Argentina and Singapore are both to have one team each. With two new countries added Super Rugby is to expand for the first time since it became a professional competition in 1996. Argentina will also become a SANZAR member.

The expanded Super Rugby format is soon to be made official. It is to be a much changed competition and one certain to be received with hostility by those interested in protecting the interests of the players. The attempts to cut-down on travel time have failed. Groups from within Australia and New Zealand have been vocal in requesting greater rest time to allow for established and potential All Blacks and Wallabies to be in prime condition for international competition.

Some are to therefore not be pleased to learn that two new countries are to join Super Rugby to make it a five country competition. Both Argentina and Singapore are to be allocated one team each while South Africa is to have a sixth. The new competition will therefore involve a total of eighteen teams and no longer be retricted to either the Eastern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere.

Details of the new Super Rugby competition were confirmed by former Pumas captain Agustín Pichot. Buenos Aires newspaper La Nacion quoted the scrumhalf who explained the changes and the long time involved to have made it possible. Indeed having Argentina join Super Rugby has taken a very long time and it was long opposed by both Australia and New Zealand with South Africa insisting that Argentina ought to be involved. With the unions requiring larger budgets to move forward adding Argentina came to be considered as logical. 

Nothing has been made official yet due to the format remaining unconfirmed in addition to the television revenue streams still being finalized. All is expected to be made official in June but La Nacion nonetheless points out that Argentina will play and that the UAR is to become a SANZAR partner for five years. Singapore, on contrast, will not be joining SANZAR. The Asian country remains a Tier Three rugby nation and is not likely to be playing at a Rugby World Cup any time soon. It is however, like Argentina, of significant value in terms of television and has a notable expat population of Australians and New Zealanders.

The decision to expand to include Singapore comes at the expense of Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts, Japan. Both Australia and New Zealand favored Singapore due to its strategic location which can be made to fit in much easier than Japan. The team based in Singapore will be one made up of players from a host of countries with there being potential for it to consist of a large proportion of Pacific Islanders to assist the three Tier two nations of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. The franchise is to be called the Asia-Pacific Dragons.

Argentina´s team will not be Los Pumas, but rather Los Pampas. It is to be a commercial entity and, as such, will be 51% owned by the UAR and 49% private making it a professional team. The UAR is to either have the 49% share owned by a business man or company either from Argentina or abroad. To assist in the process the UAR has been having regular meeting with South African authorities who have a similar set-up of sharing power between the union and the Super Rugby franchises. 

Pichot has been arguing for existing Super Rugby franchises to sign Argentine players. He maintains this position saying it is for the benefit of all SANZAR nations. Argentina will require four players per position wioth two to be playing for the Argentine franchise and the two others involved in other Super Rugby teams either in Singapore or an existing SANZAR union franchise. Presently only Manuel Carizza and Matíaz Díaz have Super Rugby contracts while many more continue to sign contracts in England and France.

The Argentine side will have forty players, all contracted in the shared agreement between the UAR and the private investor. To see the process completed Pichot says the UAR will be contracting a CEO. It is probable that it will be someone extensively involved in rugby, but not from Argentina. Pichot has ruled himself out of contention. The man who captained Argentina to Bronze place in 2007, saw Argentina added to the Tri Nations and now Super Rugby will be involved in other things. He has previously shared his desire for Argentina to host Rugby World Cup 2023

3 comments:

  1. Good to see the Argentina team is a mix of union which means the union will retain some oversight since this team is supposed to be for the benefit of Argentinian rugby, and private investor that hopefully means some non-Argentinian players from the Americas can be included. Principally I'd like to see some of the top US players included so that if the SANZAR unions play the likes of the US there's less trouble with that union getting it's best players available compared to now when they are playing for English PRL teams which for example has made working towards a NZ-USA game this November more difficult. It's quite possible that not only NZ, but the other SANZAR unions will also be interested in the next few years in playing the US in the US, but the USARFU looks like it will be hampered with player availability like the UAR has been.

    I have to say as a fan of Japanese rugby I'm disappointed but kind of not surprised. There's a number of issues that lie between Japan and it coming into Super rugby, both in logistical and Japanese domestic rugby political terms that make it far from a straight-forward process. The decision by the NZRFU to back a round-robin format after its high-performance department urged the union that NZ teams needed to play regular season competition with South African teams and not just playoff matches under a two-division (ie Australia-NZ-Asia and South Africa-Argentina) split regular season and that that was more important than travel concerns was a blow to Japan's chances.

    The fact that there will be a round-robin format meant that if an Asian team was to be included, the travel concerns had to be at least ameliorated if an Asian team was included. In an ironic way, Singapore's lack of an established pro team and pro-league compared to Japan was probably also a blessing in surprise. As far as a Japanese Super team is concerned there are questions about what form the team would take since there are already pro teams in the country. Would the union run the team or a private-public split like other countries or would one of the TL teams bid and get offered the Japanese spot(s)? Again far from a straight-forward matter with vested corporate interests in the rugby scene there. It would require a change of season for the top Japanese players who would likely no longer be available for top league play thus diminishing the value of the domestic league. Also Japan Super rugby would have to compete against the two big sports of baseball and association football in their seasons. Whereas Singapore doesn't have that same competiton with rival pro sports.

    However Singapore will have it's work cut out. At least Japan has a reasonable fan base as a foundation to start from. Not so Singapore, and there aren't enough expats to carry the team so if it doesn't attract the local population it'll fail so they'll have to do something that can attract them. What, I'm not sure because certainly there's no Singapore players that will be deemed good enough.

    Super Rugby - who wins what?

    NZ - Keeps regular season games v South African teams for long-term competitiveness.

    Australia - Gets the Asian team the ARU wanted for its long-term vision of expanding into Asia.

    Argentina - Gets a Super team. Start of domestic professional rugby in Argentina. Player availability improved for national team.

    South Africa - Get's sixth team. Resolves problem of one of the country's traditional rugby areas not being in the top pro competiton. Opens rugby up in the area with probably the most developed black player base and fanbase in the country.

    Lastly, congratulations to the UAR becoming part of SANZAR itself. That is just about as important as Argentina being in the RC and Super rugby itself. So now it will be SANZAAR?

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  2. I'm not sure if having a single conference is a good idea. Travels will make it very expensive. Also, there will be few local matches. I know that New Zeland and South Africa want to play each other. But the two-conference format would allow more local matches, which would help especially for Australia.

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  3. Something I've had in mind for a while, how will Argentina compete with the expanding English/French market power?

    I fear that with the money on offer there lessened with the RC, for some players when the novelty of playing in RC and Super Rugby wears off, they may feel the need to retire from international rugby so they can get a full seasons contract and wage to make the most of their career.

    Also how will the Argentine side compete for players in France? Lots have expressed interest in playing in Super Rugby, but with just one teams that's about 30 odd players. That's limited space, I can't imagine many foreigners will be involved as Pampas XV + returning players abroad should be enough to fill the squad.

    Finally, I'm not sure this team works all that well commercially. Unlike the other sides in the competition who have some domestic rivalries which are the most popular games, there will be virtually no travelling fans in Argentina, 50% of the games will be in foreign time zones for fans to be able to follow properly on TV, the players will also have done some knackering time zone travel by the end of it, that will surely harm performance.

    So I'm quite so optimistic about it, they should have pushed for at least 2 sides, and I'm not convinced of how well they will do both on the field and commercially. Does any other round robin tournament in world sport operate a format that spans such a large distance? Is that sustainable?

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