If it ain’t broke ... Super Rugby unchanged for 2017 but future tweaks and expansion possible
Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos accepts there are issues with the expanded 18-team southern hemisphere tournament, including the highly criticised home advantage format in the play-offs
Super Rugby will retain the same structure for 2017, but there is an acceptance that it is not perfect and changes are possible for the following season, Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos said on Monday.
The 2016 season was the first with 18 teams, including new franchises in Argentina and Japan, and there were some major mismatches as well as criticism of a conference system which allowed home advantage in the play-offs to some teams despite them having a worse records than others.
“Looking at the overall structure, the competition is locked and loaded for next year,” Marinos said.
“But we are looking at all the anomalies and see how we best can correct it. I’m not saying we will get everything right, but at least we can have a good crack at addressing it.”
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Nothing would be “off the table” when it came to proposed changes to the structure of the play-offs, he added, but expansion meant there could be no return to the days when each team played everyone else.
At a meeting with the national unions, Super Rugby coaches and TV broadcasters in Sydney last week, Marinos said the main concerns expressed had been over the competitiveness of some teams.
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“If the teams are all competing well, that does go a fair way towards managing people’s expectations around the integrity of the competition,” he said.
“The big thrust there is getting the competitiveness back to where it was.
“It’s a damned good competition. The competition is in a very good space. We had a global audience of 50 million and two million came through the turnstiles.”
Australia’s ability to maintain five teams and South Africa six was a “concern”, Marinos said, but any contraction or further expansion of the competition would have to wait until at least 2018, if not 2020 when the current TV contract expires.
Marinos has led a drive to put in place Sanzaar’s first 10-year strategic plan and consultants are due to make a series of recommendations later this year.
The Zimbabwe-born former Wales centre, though, clearly believes expansion is essential for the health of southern hemisphere rugby, which provided all four semi-finalists at last year’s World Cup.
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) August 10, 2016
“There is no shying away from the fact that the money in the game in France and England is a significant threat,” he said.
“We’ve already seen a mass exodus of players out of Africa and Australia and, if it continues the way it is, it could impact on the other markets.
“It’s a reality that we have to deal with and looking at expansion and looking into new markets – a driver for that is to increase revenue and fund more in our core markets to enable us to retain the best players for as long as possible.”
Marinos said that the Australia, New Zealand and South Africa markets were reaching saturation point and the only way to drive “exponential” growth was to move into new countries.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) August 9, 2016
The United States was “attractive” but, Marinos said, the lesson of bringing Argentina into Sanzaar had been that expansion should not happen overnight.
“You’ve got to get in there and strategically invest to build sustainability over a period of time so that when they do compete at the top table they are competitive,” he said.