Look local to go global!

Not a simple task by any stretch of the imagination, but with the appetite obviously there, the time has come for a global club tournament based on merit, not charity,  says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.

With both SANZAR and the European Rugby Cup (ERC) going through what will definitely be tournament altering discussions, I believe we have an ideal opportunity to create something brand new.

A global club competition.

People have been crying out for a game between Toulon and the Chiefs, but as it stands, there simply is no space in the calendar for it. Now is the perfect opportunity to structure the season so as not only to allow such a game to take place, but make it a regular fixture.

TV has completely changed how we consume rugby … Some of it bad given that we now sit with empty stadia every weekend, but a lot of it good, given that we are now exposed to rugby from all corners of the globe. Toulon vs Saracens now competes to head with the Bulls vs Sharks whether we like it or not, and instead of going to Loftus that day, one might be more inclined to stock the bar fridge and light a fire while taking in Bakkies Botha going head to head with Mouritz Botha.

So why not make both games part of the same tournament?

A lot easier said than done though, and we would need to take some key learnings out of the reasons both the Heineken Cup and Super Rugby are unravelling. To my mind, these would be:

Travel: Argentina and New Zealand are a very, very long way from both England and South Africa. Any travel included in a new tournament needs to be fair on all teams.

Time zones: Part of the reason SA is the best placed for creating TV numbers is that it can view ALL Super Rugby games during waking hours – from NZ games at 09:35 through to SA games at 19:00. This means it can generate good numbers when SA teams tour, and it can produce some audience even when its own teams aren’t playing.

Unfair tournament structure: In Super Rugby, the bastardised pool structure sees teams missing out on playing 2 teams based on some random algorithm. In the Heineken Cup, while based on seedings and tiers, the pool draw is still a random one.

Guaranteed seat at the table: This is the biggie for the ERC. England and France have strong domestic competitions that prop up the Heineken Cup. Between the two, they provide 26 sides across the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup. Ireland, Scotland and Wales provide 10, fewer than England alone. And yet, they each hold the same power within the competition. In Super Rugby, all three countries are guaranteed a seat in the finals series, meaning that 3rd on the log can have less points than 5th or 6th.

In Europe, the English and French clubs have proposed the formation of two new, stronger competitions of 20 teams each, based on the principles of qualification on merit from each league, the inclusion of teams from all six existing countries and the expansion into new markets. So the appetite to engage with us ruffians from the South is clearly there.

While around the SANZAR table, SARU’s demand for a 6th franchise sees a proposal being discussed that involves South Africa splitting from the current Super Rugby tournament to form its own competition with Europe and Argentina, and the Australian and New Zealand provinces then forming their own tournament with Asian and Pacific Island sides.

Super Rugby is unfair in that not all sides play each other even though it based on a league, unfair in that every region is guaranteed a quarter finalist no matter the performance, includes too many teams, is badly structured, is killing the players, and takes too long to complete …

And is thus in desperate need of a complete overhaul, but the split from Australia and New Zealand is most definitely NOT the right way to go.

The time has come to don a set of new glasses and take a look at the global club/franchise/province scene with a completely different set of eyes. Not a simple task by any stretch of the imagination, but the appetite is obviously there.

Any new tournament must be based on merit, not charity, and must give every participating team an equal chance to win it.