S18 – Convoluted, but not too bad?

How do you fit in a 6th SA franchise, shrink the amount of games and travel, while still accommodating countries on different sides of the planet? Tank Lanning, in his Sport24 column, thinks SANZAR have done OK.

For an oke who would like to see the top 4 sides in the Currie Cup participate in a Super12 that sees every side play against each other, this gargantuan new Super18 is positively vomit inducing. Throw in the fact that the four groups/pools are different sizes and that one of the African groups will only get to play against Aussie opposition in a given year, and nibbling on said vomit seems more appealing!

But that is a slightly superficial and unfair take on what SANZAR have come up with. Dig a little deeper, and perhaps, given the constraints the powers that be were working within, this new convoluted tournament is not as bad as it first sounds?

The SARU General Council vote count on whether South Africa needed a 6th franchise in Super Rugby was 14 to 0! The players, together with their unions, wanted less games, and less travel. So that is what CEO Jurie Roux, together with the best TV numbers in the tournament by far, took to the bargaining table.

Whether we will be able to staff or afford a 6th franchise is for another debate (interestingly though, the Kiwis were against it to begin with, as they see it as a way for SA to grow (rather than dilute) their player base, but in the end, it became one of two primary reasons as to why the tournament restructure took place. The other was to expand into growth markets like South America and Asia.

So how do you accommodate a 6th South African franchise, shrink the amount of games and travel, while still accommodating countries that exist on different sides of the planet?

Sure the countries up North are an option, and it is understood that they were keen to have a chat, especially with South Africa given the time zone similarities, but they have not exactly been drinking champagne and eating caviar while discussing the future of the Heineken Cup!

I have a feeling that this remains an option, and that more games between the two will happen in the interim, perhaps as warm up games, or perhaps in a second tier tournament that will replace the current Vodacom Cup, but it is understood that the IRB are a long way from OK’ing anything official just yet.

So with a new South African franchise and 2 teams to come from new markets (1 from Argentina, the other yet to be decided), SANZAR had to make a plan to accommodate 18 teams.

The round robin option was binned for player welfare reasons …

The plain 2 conference option was binned by broadcasters for lacking decent content …

The plain 3 conference system was binned because of both player welfare, and because positioning of new teams became tricky (if in Australasia, it would have meant massive extra travel for the SA sides) …

So we have … 18 teams … 2 conferences … 4 groups … 15 games per team … Quarter finals with 1 side guaranteed from each conference, 3 from Africa, and 5 from Down Under!

In a nutshell, from and SA perspective, think of it as a 6, 5, 4 tournament … 6 games home and away in your own group, 5 games against EITHER the Aussies or Kiwis (2 home one year, 2 away the next), and 4 against the other African group (2 away, 2 home).

So while it is untidy that 3 South African sides will miss out on playing the Kiwis completely every second year, it does mean that the tournament will be different every year, and at least we do keep that vital SA vs Aus vs NZ flavour.

For me, the spice will come in how the 6 SA sides get divided, and who will get that 18th franchise. How about a European based side made up South African players playing their trade overseas, but still under the SARU roof in some way?

The Evolution of Super Rugby at a glance:
– Expansion to 18 teams from the 2016 season
– New teams to come from South Africa, Argentina and “TBC” via a tender process
– Four Conferences in Two Groups:
– Australasian Group: Australian Conference, New Zealand Conference
– South African Group: Africa Conference 1, Africa Conference 2
– Existing Australian and New Zealand Conferences to remain in their current form, comprising the Australasian Group
– Existing South African Conference to expand to eight teams and be split into two Conferences of four teams each, comprising the South African Group (composition still to be determined)
– 15 Regular Season games per team (8 home/7 away or vice-versa over a two-year cycle)
– Two byes per team
– 135 Regular Season and 7 Finals matches (up from 120 and 5 currently)
– Eight-team knockout Super Rugby Finals Series to be staged over three weeks (5 qualifiers from the Australasian Group and 3 from the South African Group)
– The four Conference winners automatically qualify for the Finals Series, along with the next three highest-ranked Australasian Group teams and the next highest-ranked South African Group team

CLICK HERE to see the Weekend’s teams and Tank’s predictions.


  1. What a waste of effort and time to come to this convoluted system.aside from the players where are SARU going to find impartial decent refs?

  2. Agreed. This is good for rugby, players and keeps it interesting for the public. 18th Franchise should go to a pacific islands team. We invariably run into these guys in World cup quarter finals so the more exposure we have to their players the better. Its also a massive boost for them as it is for Argentina. It may complicate the conference system a bit but its good for rugby and the audiences. Expat players is a bad option. These guys are playing in Europe for a reason. If they wanted to play super rugby they would be here. They would simply then move to Asia.

  3. I see you say from SA perspective, is that all the South African Rugby Union is concerned about, The 6th SA team, have they not thought this all the way through

    The Australia/ New Zealand teams get 90% of what they want, a Southern Ocean Tournament
    With very little travel [ paid for by SA television rights]

    I believe there is a big drop off, of SA fans watching TV of Australia/ New Zealand games

    Don’t tell me the Argentine s have or will buy into this Australia/ New Zealand spider’s web
    They would have to play 5 South African teams here in the Republic [or 4 South African teams and the 18th team] And 2 or 3 teams from Australia/ New Zealand over in New Zealand / Australia
    For them that will be 2 overseas trips of 3 or 4 weeks each, [and as I say then the 18th team, somewhere]. And their 7 home games will have to be fractured into the Tournament somewhere in the middle

    The same situation will apply to this so-called 18th Team, Who will tender, to fall into this Australia/ New Zealand web?
    Your hopes of a SA overseas player team will come to naught, as what club will release their highly paid SA players for 4 months. With no reward to themselves. Just not business sense

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