Any rugby fanatic will remember the engrossing career mode in the lauded Rugby ’08 computer game that was entitled World League. It consisted of four divisions: Elite League, Division One, Division Two and Division Three, consisting of teams from across the globe.
This is what I was reminded of when I saw that the newly created Jaguares and Sunwolves franchises were being added to Super Rugby, and I am reminded again as two South African sides who look set to join the Pro12. On the surface, it seems to be a great idea to have a global league which helps to develop up-and-coming nations, but what is obvious to most that this worldwide league is totally impractical.
It has diluted the quality of the competition. What was once the premier club competition in the rugby world has now fallen into average, dull rugby, with no true passion or meaning behind each game. The standard of rugby is only upheld by the New Zealand sides and the Lions.
Now the competition will be cut from 18 to 15 teams, removing two South African sides, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings and one Australian team from the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force.
The attendance at Super Rugby matches has diminished over the past few years and the competition has suffered due to too many inferior sides, not playing every team and a complicated, discouraging conference system. What has devalued the tournament majorly is the lack of relegation.
The Aviva Premiership is one of the most exciting and most competitive leagues in the world due to relegation. It makes the games matter.
People’s livelihoods are at stake. Often the relegation battle is as fascinating as the title race and it has been proven in the greatest leagues in the world in different sports.
So, I would suggest that rather than dismantling Super Rugby, it should be cut into two separate leagues of nine teams in each league with promotion and relegation between the two. This allows for the players to have more rest from an exhausting season, which often includes long haul flights for almost all away games for some sides.
It would be beneficial to the sides that currently exist in the tournament and would help the emerging nations to develop their sides. The elite sides will play each other in fierce competitions while the weaker sides will develop, progress and aspire to be promoted to the top league.
It also allows for the teams in each league to play each other both home and away in a single season unlike the current set-up which only allows for 15 games per team per season. A split league would see 18 games per season
Having two separate leagues would allow the option for developing nations to add more teams. There’s the potential for a second Argentinian or Japanese team or even a Pacific Island combination franchise.
The development of emerging rugby nations is paramount and this is a way to keep them developing without diminishing existing competitions.
In 2008, Connacht Rugby were on the verge of being liquidated, but were saved on a decision based purely on enhancing the national side. By keeping and developing Connacht, it allows for the Irish national team to develop more players capable of playing at the elite level.
We can now see the fruits of that decision with Connacht lifting the Pro12 trophy in 2016, while both promising and established players have emerged from the province such as Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O’Halloran.
So, it is proven that keeping more teams benefits the national sides.
This new template for the competition will help develop and globalise the game. The same template could even be applied in Europe by adding a second tier of ten teams to the Pro12.
Drop two sides from the Pro12 into the secondary league and in that league, franchises from emerging European nations such as Georgia, Romania and Russia could take part, possibly even North American sides. What’s not to like?
The league in the new format at end of regular season standings:
2. Southern Kings
Ruaidhri Duddy, Pundit Arena
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