Domestic Rugby & The Super Rugby Championship Cup
The structure of Super Rugby (SR) has long been untenable and it is time to blow it up and start fresh.
For some time, as an Australian, I subscribed to the idea that we needed a Pacific or trans-Tasman competition. I now believe that this would be unfair to South Africa and would face the same sustainability issues.
I believe the future of Super Rugby is in the structure of a Championship Cup in a similar mould to the Heineken Cup in Europe. The top teams for domestic leagues in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan would qualify for the Cup for a home and away pool stage followed by playoffs. There would be a financial burden to begin with, however the domestic leagues across the SANZAAR nations, coupled with the Championship Cup could offer an attractive broadcast package.
Each nation would likely field eight teams in the top tier of their domestic league, providing their audiences with four local derbies, as well as eight other matches each weekend. Meaning more rugby local games, more prime time product and overall more rugby!
The autonomy provided to each national body over their league, would allow them to make the choices that would benefit their own rugby landscape. Something very enticing which they do not currently have.
The often discussed lack of depth in member nations outside New Zealand would be less of a concern, as the teams would play compatriot teams at a similar level. One thing you will note scanning through weekly lineups of competitions like the National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia, is that the talent isn’t as concentrated as it currently is in Super Rugby, yet the product is entertaining. This is all due to perception, fans would rather watch two good teams go head to head in a close battle, than one good team constantly being dominated by a great team.
Equally important is the fact that a domest league means at the completition of the season, a domestic winner will be crowned. Leaving a portion of local fans the opportunity to cheer for a premier winning side, rather than feeling like they were let down by their national teams against the likes of New Zealand.
Super Rugby Championship Cup
For all it’s failings, the international portion of SR is what made it so enticing in the first place. The best talent of the Southern Hemisphere and the three most successful rugby nations going head to head in a clash of styles. In my opinion, the current structure has been flooded by more and more international content and it has lost its shine. Sometimes less is more.
The SR Championship Cup would provide that international content, as a stand alone Cup that would run congruent to the domestic competition in a similar to Europe’s Heineken Cup.
Fiftein clubs would qualify via their final position in their respective domestic leagues (Currie Cup, Mitre 10 Cup, NRC and Top League), or in the future by winning a second-tier SR Challenge Cup, made up of teams who do not qualify for the SR Championship Cup.
My proposition would be that the top four sides from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and the top three from Japan would be ranked based on domestic league performance the previous season, and arranged into three tiers of five teams. Teams would then be drawn randomly from their tiers into pools, with the stipulation that no pool shall contain two teams from the same league.
Teams will play the other two teams in the pool twice, at home and away, being awarded points in the same fashion as the current SR competition (four points for a win, two for a draw, one bonus point for scoring three or more tries than the opponent and/or for losing the match by seven or fewer points).
At the completion of the pool stage, the five pool winners, as well as the three runners-up qualify for the knock-out stage. These eight quarter-finalists are seeded by their pool performances – winners from 1–5 and runners-up from 6–8. The four pool winners with the best pool record receive home advantage for the quarter-finals against the lower ranked teams as follows 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v6.
The international side of rugby is what makes it so valuable, however domestic competitions are notoriously neglected at their expense.
I believe domestic leagues will help nations to stand on their on two feet in time, whilst providing more opportunities for players in their home nations. The combination of the leagues and Championship Cup will also allow nations to expand as they see fit, whilst still having the opportunity to compete with the best sides in the Southern Hemisphere.
The notable omission from this proposed SR Championship Cup is Argentina, however I believe this structure allows for the potential addition of both South and North American teams, or even Pacific Nation teams when they have viable competitions. The five pools would then expand to four teams each, with an unchanged finals format.
Feel free to comment what you like about this structure, or how you would do things differently.
Written by Nelson Dale