Latest report from New Zealand Herald provides a strong indication of how the future will be New Zealand rugby might see, post the current global epidemic.
Super Rugby is set for change next year but we can be on the brink of a massive reconfiguration of the game. International flavors may leave the competition, but trade-offs will potentially become a more competitive playing arena – and the potential for introducing some Pacific talent.
What do fans expect from the new competition?
“We don’t want a Brazilian model where all of your top players are in offshore clubs,” a NZR official revealed Bentara early this week. “We are determined to keep as much as possible of ours All blacks here we can. “
This makes two things very clear.
The first is that the NZR will not significantly change their current policy which requires a player to be contracted with a New Zealand club to be selected for the All Blacks. The second is that the new competition is expected to generate at least income similar to Super Rugby.
Top All Blacks like Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have been allowed to spend one or two seasons outside New Zealand and get fast cash but 95% of All Blacks will still be expected to play their rugby club in New Zealand.
Of course, the lure of black shirts is just so strong; NZR will not be able to retain their top players if the money offered abroad is far better than what is available in New Zealand.
NZR has done a good job of stemming the waves and it is difficult to say whether the global coronavirus pandemic will increase or decrease. Foreign clubs may be more devastated than Rugby New Zealand because of the global suspension of the match but even if their contracts can offer a decline in the future, Kiwi players who lose revenue this year (ie all) may look to short-term top ups by heading elsewhere.
There is also the potential for the emergence of new Japanese club competition on the horizon which will create other competitors for New Zealand players.
If NZR wants to have hope of maintaining locally based talent, then a Super Rugby reimbursement must at least maintain current income levels, if not increase significantly. That must be fully possible, if the rugby offered is the best in the world and the owner of the competition can market it globally.
– RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 30, 2020
The comments from the NZR also show that although New Zealand clearly treats the Rugby Test and what is best for the All Blacks as the most important thing on the calendar, it will not sacrifice lower level competition.
Coaches and administrators in NZ often suggest that having each player based locally improves the performance of the national team but by winning last year’s World Cup, South Africa shows that following the ‘Brazilian model’ will not greatly damage the strength of the All Blacks.
Despite all that, it seems like we won’t see NZR taking an approach similar to the All Blacks selection criteria – which is fantastic for local games.
With that, how could a new competition enter the calendar?
According to Bentara, New Zealand will field teams between five and eight sides with one more team potentially based in the Pacific Islands.
There is also the potential for four Australian Eastern Cost parties to join.
Phil Gifford suggested that five sides of New Zealand would become the ones Super Rugby franchise but if more teams will be based in this country then this franchise needs to be diluted heavily.
RugbyPass had begun teaming up based on a combination of provinces that made sense geographically, but it was based on the competition of ten hypothetical teams.
Assuming a lower number of teams, the logic remains the same: the location of the franchise must be based primarily on population and location (the two provinces on the opposite side of the country clearly do not have to be grouped together in the same team).
It is not fair to expect this franchise to produce a strong team even if they lose some of their current provinces. Auckland offers the most competitive local schoolchildren tournament in the country while the Chiefs region currently includes five of the schools participating in the Super 8 competition.
It is recognized that the Blues have struggled over the past decade but the raw resources are all there with a lot of regional talent going elsewhere and developing.
Therefore the most logical step would be to see the Chief and Storm splitting into four sides which are relatively the same as the Blues also restructuring.
Assuming seven New Zealand teams and one Pacific side, the new franchise will likely resemble below:
Waikato and Bay of Plenty has had a strong relationship throughout history that can be maintained with a little manipulation but if parity and geographical location are seen as the most important factor (which, perhaps is the case for maintaining the age of competition) then the above arrangement makes the most sense
However, with only six New Zealand teams, Bay of Plenty will likely remain with their current Chiefs partner:
In each scenario, the South will always struggle to compete with their rivals but there is no other way to overcome them.
Current restructuring Super Rugby sides of course possible but the new competition structure is arguably a more challenging puzzle.
If New Zealand creates additional franchises then the boundary is between Super Rugby replacement and rugby provinces are more difficult to see.
Year after year, it is increasingly clear that the provincial competition, which was once a New Zealand flagship tournament, is diminishing. There are several All Blacks involved and even some Super Rugby players, in the past, chose to play in the Top League rather than stay in NZ for the provincial season (which would not be the case this year when the Top League started in January and has now been canceled).
From February to mid-May, the NZ and Pacific can play home-and-away round-robin series before joining other country clubs in late May to compete in several all-winners-taking international club matches.
Add in North Island v South Island clash or Probables v Possibles All Blacks trial and the first half of the year is sorted, with the first round of the Test match involving the Southern Hemisphere side starting in July.
The Rugby Championship began soon after the July Test which did not leave a window for the New Zealand side in full strength to fight in the second half of the year, but it did create opportunities for the New Zealand provinces to effectively organize their own trials for the next Super replacement.
Instead of dividing 14 provinces into two pseudo divisions, teams will be divided geographically – potentially with teams playing teams in their region more than once in a season.
Super Rugby is struggling in lost battles with disruptions this year potentially marking the death knell – but it creates good opportunities for Rugby New Zealand to rethink things. Of course, the global rugby calendar needs to be changed but closer to home, it’s time for the local scene to get significant refreshment and the competition that is rumored to be what fans are looking for.
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