Time to scrap Super Rugby? Format still flawed after 25 years

WELLINGTON (AFP) – Super Rugby marks its 25th anniversary this year still struggling to establish a stable identity and with calls for the unwieldy competition across 16 time zones to be scrapped.

Staging a multi-national tournament from South Africa to New Zealand every weekend was always going to be fraught with problems even before Argentina joined, and the governing body SANZAAR has never found an acceptable solution.

Perhaps the best answer, according to South African-born former All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens, would be to scrap the tournament and start all over again without South Africa and Argentina.

“If we push into Asia, if we can develop a competition that’s in the same time zone I think it’s going to be a better product,” the former All Blacks fly-half said.

“We need to drop South Africa. As much as I love South Africa, logistically it’s a pain, and the same with Argentina.”

The problem is highlighted by the Wellington Hurricanes’ start to this season.

Following their final warm-up game in Auckland last weekend, they play in South Africa on Saturday, travel on to Argentina the week after and play their third match the following week back in New Zealand.

Super Rugby was born in 1996 as a 12-team competition with franchises in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa playing in a round-robin competition with the top four advancing to semi-finals.

In 2011, in an attempt to make more money from broadcasters, it was expanded to 15 teams divided into three national conferences under a complicated system in which teams did not play all the other sides.

It was further enlarged to 18 teams in 2016 and spread over 16 time zones with the addition of a sixth South African side as well as the Sunwolves from Japan and Argentina’s Jaguares making it bewildering for even diehard fans to keep up with the action which was taking place at all hours.

The flaws in the conference system were immediate, especially in 2017 when the Golden Lions were ranked the top team for the play-offs despite having not faced a New Zealand team.

When it came to the crunch they lost the final at home to the Canterbury Crusaders.

Another rethink saw two South African and one Australian side axed in 2018. The widely criticised conference system will be scrapped for next season, as will Japan’s Sunwolves.