By Alan Dymock
LIKE A Katie Price lecture on the life of Liz Taylor, it is hard to avoid talk of shocking splits.
News is floating north from the SANZAR regions that the pressure to accommodate the extra Super Rugby franchise in South Africa, the Southern Kings – who recently lost the right to compete in the competition after losing a playoff with the Lions franchise – has created several new proposals for a Super shake-up in time for 2016.
There are persistent rumours that in South Africa, a region considered to be so in love with their rugby that many commercial parties hope their audience will follow their teams anywhere, the teams may consider splitting from Super Rugby completely. With several shareholders, namely Premiership Rugby, holding firm and struggling to come to a resolution over the future of the Heineken Cup, an agreement over a competition with South African sides could feasibly come about.
Time is running out. 2016 may seem like a long way off, but the current agreement with all the shareholders and ERC for the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups runs out after this coming season. Travelling would be difficult were South African teams to court the English and/or French sides, but the time difference would suit broadcasters. It is not impossible to suggest that two parties led by individuals who are driven could come to some understanding, regardless of whether it would be a long-term success or not.
The more plausible change being mooted, however, is that a Japanese and Argentine team are introduced to the mix and the currently three-conference system changes as the Super 15 becomes the Super 18. Two conferences of nine would suit the league better, with Australian and Kiwi teams in one division and the South African and Argentine teams in another, perhaps a Japanese side slipping in to the Australasian section.
Does that then split to two completely separate section, or even two sections and then playoffs? What happens if Pacific Island teams are approached too? It is tough to predict.
Of course even at the simple stages of suggestion this concept will anger some South Africans. Complaints about the length of season are as annoyingly constant as a library fine, with a Super Rugby season mixed in with a Currie Cup campaign and international rugby in November and the summer months. The human body can only take so much, regardless of how many notes are thrown at their feet. At some stage –normally at the dying moments of a Super Rugby season – it becomes unfair on travelling players.
The South Africans hold all the cards here. They want their cake and they want a shovel to eat it with. With the rugby resources they have few can blame them, but at the moment it seems like a case of getting the amount of teams they want and playing more rugby, getting the amount of teams they want and facing trips to the northern hemisphere or not getting the amount of teams they want and scowling.
Shake-up indeed. Whichever way this is split there will be grossly unhappy parties. It also looks like the international window in summer will head for a shift to July rather than June which means the Northern Hemisphere season will have to change, too. It is for the greater good of the game but we will still hear the moaners raging on when this change comes, as distracting and irritating as a shelf of mags dedicated to reality stars’ love lives.