NEW YORK, NY – There is an old cautionary tale about growing too fast too soon. It seems that the old story was not heeded by those in charge of SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina Rugby Unions Association). After over two decades in existence, Super Rugby is going to experience its first real… contraction.
From the creation of the Super 6 in 1992, which included 5 provinces between NZ, Australia and Fiji, through the Super 18 in 2016, the league has undergone lots of change. The most significant change was the addition of South African Provinces and removal of the Pacific Island nations. However, there has never been a contraction and that is what the association is facing.
Already chopped are two South African teams in the Cheetahs and the Kings. The two franchises have fought each other for existence since the Kings were created, as we saw the Kings replacing the Cheetahs for a season until South Africa was allowed to have 6 teams in the tournament. Now with both teams not going to be in the competition due to constraints on the SARU budget, the two sides have joined the Pro 12 in Europe.
Meanwhile in Australia, there was a fight to drop a side and it came down to the last two sides added in Australia, the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels. With Melbourne set to become the largest city in Australia, they were chosen as the franchise to keep while the Force will be folded. Well that is the plan but it appears the state of Western Australia will not go quietly as they are suing the Australian Rugby Union and they now have a millionaire owner ready to inject funds into the club so time will tell what happens with this situation. Be prepared for it to go from bad to worse.
The bigger question: What is the way forward for Super Rugby? It seems like a trans-Tasman competition between New Zealand and Australia is the way forward for those unions. However, what about Argentina, South Africa and Japan. Not sure it will be within Super Rugby but Japan maybe best creating a competition featuring them and the Pacific Islands. As for Argentina, they just got their new team and are trying to make sure their best players in Europe return to fill out the Argentina team. Maybe they need to work on a competition strictly with SA and move toward developing the other sides in the Americas while SA does the same for Africa.
We live in interesting times. As a result all we can do is watch and wait to see what happens. I will note that the only other league to contract and successfully continue and grow in my memory is the USA Soccer league, the MLS. However they were much younger in their growth as a league, so this remains uncharted territory.
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