The Australian and New Zealand conferences are staying the same, but the South African group is being split into two conferences, featuring three new franchises. Argentinean participation in SuperRugby has been confirmed with a team to be based in Buenos Aires, while the Southern Kings will in all likelihood be the sixth South African franchise.
This leaves space for another franchise – the 18th SuperRugby team – and Sanzar are throwing this open to a worldwide tender process.
The six South African franchises will be split into two conferences, with the Argentinean team in one and the new 18th participant in the other. The one African conference will only play the Australian franchises in the group stages, while the other will take on the New Zealand sides, but the disappointment of not playing everybody has been counteracted by having to travel less and by restoring some of the mystique surrounding the overseas teams because now they won’t be seen in South Africa every year.
While the South African Rugby Union ditched plans to join an Anglo-French competition – insiders say the IRB would never allow it because it would destroy the strength of the Celtic nations and there are long-term doubts about the viability of a French model that has so many overseas players – they are still keen to increase contact with Europe.
Given the similarity of time zone and the relative ease of travel, it would make sense for South Africa (the most lucrative market in Sanzar) to push for the 18th franchise to be based in Europe, and France are still the financial powerhouses of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere.
To run a SuperRugby franchise costs around $8-10 million and that is well within the reach of someone like Mourad Boudjellal, who has already led Toulon to the Holy Grail of the Heineken Cup.
Sanzar CEO Greg Peters told Midi Olympique that the selection of the 18th franchise will rest on the rugby readiness (can they field a competitive team?), commercial programme (will they add sustainable value to Sanzar?) and infrastructure (including geographical factors like time zones) of the applicants.
“It’s an open tender process and the reality is that anyone can apply. We’ve sent Expression of Interest documents to a number of parties already and from June 2 we will start deciding on a short-list of serious contenders.
“We’re obviously looking at viability, a comprehensive business plan and can they rely on their surrounding community to engage with the brand? Will they be able to create interest within their community? It would obviously be a massive risk to take a franchise to where they don’t play rugby at all. Time zones are also a big factor for the broadcasters,” Peters said.
Apparently Singapore have their eyes on a franchise, but they would be reliant on importing players from around the world.
French clubs, already so successful on the European stage, may have their eyes on an expansion of their own.
The new SuperRugby format is by no means perfect, but it represents the best compromise that could be made between the competing interests of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
Argentina have now been added to that club and many in the Southern Hemisphere will be hoping for some European flavour being introduced as well.
- All teams will play 15 regular season matches (eight home/seven away or seven home/eight away) made up of:
- 4 matches (two home/ two away) against one of the African Conferences
- 5 matches (either two home/three away or three home/two away) against an Australasian Conference
- 6 matches within their own Conference (three home/ three away)
- All four conference winners will automatically host a quarter-final
- They will be opposed by four wildcard teams who will be
- the next three highest placed teams in the Australasian Group
- the next highest placed team in the South African Group
- The winners will contest the semi-finals with home field advantage going to the highest-placed team on overall standings points.
See http://www.sanzarrugby.com/sanzar/assets/Future%20of%20Super%20Rugby/The%20Evolution%20of%20Super%20Rugby.pdf for a graphic representation of the new format.