There’s no question that regardless of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Super Rugby has been sick for quite some time. The competition doesn’t resemble what it once was and interest both from fans and broadcasters is waning. The tribalism the game once had, has also diminished and there’s been a growing disconnect between grassroots rugby, the pathway system and the professional game. Additionally, player salaries have skyrocketed but so has the cost to run the competition. These costs have largely been a result of the incredible amount of travel. Australian and New Zealand based teams have been subject to an Argentina via South Africa leg (which once also resulted in a stopover in London).
I received some feedback last week on my Phil Kearns column. And that feedback was certainly warranted. I didn’t provide any possible solutions to the game’s troubles. So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and present a new competition structure.
I believe that the answer to Rugby’s challenges in Australia doesn’t lie in the creation of one new competition. The answer lies in the creation of two new competitions. The obvious caveat here is that there would need to be an agreement from New Zealand, Japan and the Pacific Islands. It would also (probably) need some significant private equity investment and/or support from some of the more well-resourced clubs in Australia (Sydney Uni, Sunnybank, Warringah, Easts (Sydney), Vikings (Canberra), etc).
The first competition is an Australian domestic 8 club, 17-week competition (Including finals). But the regular season is broken up into two 7-week blocks.
The second, for now, we’ll call the Asia Pacific Cup. This competition features the top 3 teams in the Australian Domestic Competition. The top 4 teams from New Zealand’s domestic competition. The top 2 teams from Japan and 1 team from the Pacific Islands.
The 10 teams are then put into two pools (drawn out of a hat). And, the competition is played over 6 rounds (including finals). Each team will play two home fixture and two away fixtures.
Hopefully, at this point, you’re still with me.
Australian Domestic Competition
As mentioned above, the competition takes place over 17 rounds and features 8 clubs. Your club plays the other clubs twice, with a home and away fixture. Followed by a 3-week finals series outlined below.
The competition window starts from the end of February and finishes in the middle of June.
The obvious place to start with the participating clubs initially is with the 5 already professional clubs that exist in Australia. The next step is to find 3 more. This is where the private investment and support from clubs come into play. However, for the sake of this article let’s just assume we’ve managed to find those additional 3 clubs.
The first 7 rounds of this competition will be called “the play-in tournament”. Each club plays each other once and the top 3 clubs after 7 rounds gain entry into the “Asia Pacific Cup”. Entry into the “Asia Pacific Cup” doesn’t stop your clubs participation in the domestic competition. But, it does add a midweek fixture to your clubs’ schedule. E.g Asia Pacific Cup fixture on a Wednesday and a domestic game on a Saturday or Sunday night.
The remainder of this competition is played over the next 10 weeks with a 3-week finals series. Consisting of a major and minor semi-final, a preliminary final and then a grand final.
Asia Pacific Cup
The Cup competition features two pools of 5 clubs. Your club plays each team in your pool once and the top two clubs from each pool then play off in a single-elimination finals series. E.g 1st in pool A plays 2nd in pool B and vice versa.
The pool games start the first week in May and are played over 5 weeks. The 2 round finals series is played after the domestic competition in the last two weeks of June.
Asia Pacific Cup games are played on a Wednesday night. Two games are played in each of the 5.30 pm TV time slot (AEST) and 7.30 pm TV time slot (AEST).
Some of the travel logistics will be challenging. Your club may have to play a game in Tokyo on Wednesday and back-up to play again in Sydney on a Saturday or Sunday (roughly a 9-hour flight). However, I have a possible solution for this challenge below.
At the beginning of each domestic competition, the rule around team makeup doesn’t change. Teams are allowed 30 standard contracts and 5 extended player contracts but, there’s no restriction on how many academy contracts. So, for those of you playing at home 35 fully professional players.
If your team qualifies for the Asia Pacific Cup then the squad extends to 50 professional players (with some extra cash being released to your team upon qualification). Those additional 15 slots are made up of your academy players, local club footballers and players from one of the other 7 clubs academies.
The reason for extending the squads is this. If you have a week where you’re playing two games and the travel turnaround is tight. Using the example above, of your Wednesday night “Asia Pacific Cup” 23 you may only send 6 or 7 of them to play in Sydney for the domestic fixture that week.
Thus, giving a player who may be stuck in an academy (cough cough Mikey Alaatoa) an opportunity to play top-level domestic footy. While simultaneously opening up an academy spot for a local club footballer.
So, all of a sudden we have a developmental pathway built into our professional competition.
For this reason, Club Rugby continues to be very important. It’s the only mechanism to feed players up to the professional teams and academies. Additionally, it gives game time to those not selected in the professional matchday 23.
I understand that this solution may not be perfect. However, it does open up the game to new markets and satisfies the need to play elite level provincial Rugby. It helps to keep the competition costs down and cuts the travel requirements significantly. Additionally, it supports the development of the game domestically and abroad. It starts to bring back that sense of tribalism having more teams with a better connection to clubs. And finally, it opens up an additional overseas broadcast revenue stream.
The other thing to consider… If South Africa and Argentina agree to similar style domestic and cup competition. We could hold a third, “Champions Series” played over two weeks in a neutral site to crown the southern hemisphere’s best club. Another opportunity to grab some cash from a broadcaster.
I’d love to know what you guys think. Send us a message!