Thursday, April 17, 2014

Super Rugby: The Impact of Expansion to South America and Asia

Image Pink Rugby
Super Rugby will change from a fifteen team event involving five teams from three countries to an eighteen team event. Additions are to see South Africa having six teams while both Argentina and Singapore are to join the fold. Argentina 2023 reader Simon Cox has a number of notable opinions on the changes. As a New Zealander who has lived and worked in Asia Simon can offer unique insight into the winners and losers as well as giving the perspective of a rugby enthusiast. 

By Simon Cox

It is good to see that 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 New Zealand-USA game this November more difficult. 

It is quite possible that not only New Zealand, but the other SANZAR unions will also be interested in the next few years in playing the USA Eagles in the United States, 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 NZRU to back a round-robin format after its high-performance department urged the union that New Zealand teams needed to play regular season competition with South African teams and not just play-off matches under a two-division (ie Australia-New Zealand-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 professional 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 does not attract the local population it will fail so they will 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?

New Zealand - 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 Rugby Championship and Super Rugby itself. So now it will be SANZAAR? 

Simon Cox is a New Zealander who sepnt a number of years living in Japan. He is a supporter of the global game and participates in forum debates surrounding Tier Two and Three rugby. He wrote an article last month outlining why he believed the World Cup to be expanded to twenty-four teams. Cox supports Argentina hosting Rugby World Cup 2023.

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