It is a difficult concept for New Zealanders to grasp why South Africa deserve a sixth team in the Super Rugby competition. It seems that politics would play a part in letting a team from the Port Elizabeth coloured melting pot get their Southern Kings into the competition, but should they take the place of another South African team, or should South Africa get the luxury of a sixth franchise team?
Australia and New Zealand would be disadvantaged by having an extra team in South Africa, especially if it is strictly a South African policy based on race which New Zealand and Australia don't have in their countries. The move would mean more away games and travel for the ANZACs, but it would also be a test of the depth of players in South Africa. I think that more teams would dilute the competition. The introduction of teams like the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force have been a mixed bag with player depth a major worry. I also think another team would mean not only more travel for players, but a longer Super Rugby competition with more games.
I think South Africa should only get five teams in the Super Rugby competition and they should be left to deal with which team to exclude themselves. Some of the South African teams have underperformed in recent years like the Lions in Super Rugby, yet at the same time they do have such a massive population in the Johannesburg region and in South Africa in general that it would be a shame for millions of people to miss out. Maybe they need to combine teams? Mind you, there is plenty of rivalry there.
I would suggest that the only way of getting a sixth South African team into Super Rugby would be to expand the competition into Argentina and maybe even Japan and the Pacific Islands. There could even be the opportunity for a global club tournament. But while teams remain from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, I don't think it is fair to have six South African teams.
Should South Africa get a sixth team in Super Rugby? Who should the Southern Kings replace? Is there enough depth to sustain another team in South Africa when you consider how average some of their teams are?
South Africa wants Super Rugby expanded to 16 teams and will lobby Sanzar partners New Zealand and Australia to make the change.
While they believe the expansion would benefit everyone, it is clearly designed to alleviate political considerations in their own back yard.
South Africa want a sixth team. Currently, all three countries have five teams playing in the conference-style championship.
But South Africa yesterday confirmed that the Southern Kings, a Port Elizabeth-based franchise built from the hotbed of coloured rugby, would come into the championship next year.
At the moment that means one of the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers, Lions or Cheetahs will have to make way for the Kings.
Who that might be could be known after the South African national body's annual meeting in March.
There is plenty at stake and it promises to be a fiery meeting.
But SA Rugby deputy president Mark Alexander suggested the best way out of the complex problem would be to lobby for a sixth side to be included in a new 16-team competition.
"We've got the five franchises looking at the model, but first prize, we are still lobbying our partners, we want to get a sixth franchise in. We believe it will be good for rugby and we don't want to see anybody go down," Alexander said yesterday.
"The last thing we want to do is to make a choice to push one of the franchises out.
"We understand if one drops out it is very difficult to come back and compete again the following year, it makes it almost impossible."
Timing will be an issue though with the Super Rugby broadcasting deal which covers the 15 teams set to be renegotiated in 2016.
"There is a window of opportunity with our partners, we are currently preparing a 16-team schedule so that we can go and debate with them," he said.
"I think our relationship with Sanzar has improved tremendously, we are very close to our partners in Australia and we work very closely with New Zealand and our relationship has changed.
"I think there is a window of opportunity provided we sell a workable solution about 16 franchises playing in the competition."
It seems the South African proposal is based around a simple round-robin format where all teams play each other, meaning 15 games for each side.
They are also suggesting a return to a four-team finals series to reduce the need to expand the length of the season.
But that is unlikely to meet with much support from their Australasian partners after the current move to six teams finals to keep more teams involved at the business end.
- © Fairfax NZ News