After Super Rugby’s death knell‚ South Africa looks north

South African Stormers Left Wing Seabelo Senatla (L) and Fly Half Damian Willemse clash in the air during their Super Rugby match Stormers versus Crusaders at Newlands Stadium, on May 18, 2019, in Cape Town.
South African Stormers Left Wing Seabelo Senatla (L) and Fly Half Damian Willemse clash in the air during their Super Rugby match Stormers versus Crusaders at Newlands Stadium, on May 18, 2019, in Cape Town.
Image: RODGER BOSCH / AFP

With Super Rugby as we know it dead in the water‚ South Africa is likely to fast track plans to expand its interest in European competition.

The plug has effectively been pulled on the tournament after New Zealand proposed a southern hemisphere tournament from next year that does not include teams from South Africa or Argentina.

It means South Africa’s top teams the Bulls‚ the Lions‚ the Stormers and the Sharks will need to be accommodated in another tournament and the most obvious is Europe’s PRO14‚ which is contested by teams from Ireland‚ Wales‚ Scotland and Italy.

South Africa has an existing presence in the tournament through the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings but they are likely to be sacrificed for the four more established Super Rugby entities.

SA Rugby was coy about its plans in a media release.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive human impact and‚ in our sport‚ has asked fundamental questions of the viability of competitions and fixture scheduling‚" it said.

“SA Rugby has been kept abreast of the thinking in New Zealand and of the outcomes of the Aratipu Report to address the immediate challenges of travel restrictions that may stretch into 2021.

“As part of the Sanzaar joint venture we will be examining how the mooted new competition will fit into the existing contracted competitions.”

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux is set to address the media on Tuesday and he is also likely to field questions around South Africa’s future participation in the Sanzaar alliance and indeed the Springboks’ presence in the Rugby Championship.

It is unlikely Super Rugby‚ celebrating its 25th year of existence‚ will come to a conclusion this year after it was suspended in March due to the spread of the virus. New Zealand’s announcement that they’re planning a new competition that will feature their five existing franchises along with two to four Australian teams‚ and a side from the Pacific Islands‚ was effectively Super Rugby’s death knell.

The competition was launched in 1996 and it helped herald a bright new dawn for a rugby union that had just turned professional. The Super 12‚ as it was known then‚ quickly established itself as the most watchable cross-border regional competition in the sport.

The tournament‚ however‚ became a victim of its own success as television executives in concert with rugby bosses from South Africa‚ New Zealand and Australia embarked on a tinkering process that eventually saw the competition lose much of its appeal.

Super Rugby’s competitive edge‚ time-consuming and hefty travel cost‚ and player welfare increasingly came into focus as the unwieldy tournament expanded.

The paralysis brought about by the pandemic expedited its demise.

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