That’s because SuperRugby has become the be-all and end-all if you’re a rugby franchise in South Africa: It’s your most important competition, your best players are in it week after week, and it thoroughly dominates the calendar following its expansion to 15 teams.
The Southern Kings certainly have no on-field claim to back up their promotion, but in a country where recompense needs to be made for past wrongs, the fact they are the nursery of black rugby is an ace in the hand for them.
There have been suggestions the top five unions will stand together and boycott next year’s competition if one of them is relegated, but, with contracts signed and sealed until 2015, that would appear to merely open them up to massive legal claims.
The Lions, who have not finished in the top-10 since 2001, are seen as the most likely victims, particularly since their main union is apparently in financial distress, but, as current Currie Cup champions, even their fans are looking forward to the competition in a bullish mood.
As the biggest money-earners in Sanzar, the South African franchises do have a certain amount of influence, and broadcasters SuperSport have allegedly come on board as powerful backers.
It would be stupid for Sanzar to ignore the wishes of the million people that watch SuperRugby in South Africa on some weekends, but CEO Greg Peters has quickly discouraged talk of a change in format before 2015.
“Sixteen teams will not work in our current format, we’ve looked at it in the past, and we’ve signed contracts until 2015 and the franchises have built their commercial models around having eight home games per year.
“Any talk of a boycott would be hollow … the competition agreement states that each country must provide five teams, it doesn’t specify what teams they have to be. It’s a domestic issue, it’s for the South African Rugby Union to decide how six goes into five,” Peters said from Sydney on Tuesday.