Jacques van der Westhuyzen.
JOHANNESBURG – Okay, we know something’s up with Super Rugby, but we just don’t know what, exactly.

Are Sanzaar going to chop two teams, or three, from the competition? Will they be the Sunwolves and Kings, or the Jaguares and Cheetahs, and what about the under-performing Australian sides?

No one quite knows what’s going on, and it seems no one quite knows how to fix the “problem”.

What we do know is that Super Rugby in its current form – with 18 teams playing in four conferences – isn’t what rugby fans want. It’s also doubtful it’s what broadcasters want.

It’s interesting how some commentators have reacted to the anticipated culling of two or three teams from next year. Former All Black No 10 Andrew Mehrtens says New Zealand (and Sanzaar) don’t need the South African teams and that we must look to Europe to play our “inter-provincial” rugby.

He makes some good points, like the fact that Europe’s and South Africa’s time zones are very similar and that it requires a quick overnight flight to get from there to here.

Brendan Venter, too, says South Africa must ditch the whole Sanzaar alliance and try to get involved in any one of the European competitions.

But if that’s not an option, he says, then the worst performing team each year should be relegated to a second-tier competition and thus allow another team to move into Super Rugby.

Both Mehrtens and Venter make good points, but I want to take it further. Why cut any team from Super Rugby?

Why not increase the number of teams from the current 18 to 20, but then have two pools – an A and B division, or call it what you want – of 10 teams each.

Two more teams can come into the mix, possibly from the Pacific Islands, which would allow the best stay-at-home players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to get into big-time rugby, or even a side from the USA.

It would work like this: At the end of the current season, the 10 teams with the most points advance to division A, while the bottom eight, plus the two new teams, play in division B.

Each year the two worst performing teams in division A are relegated and the two best teams in division B are promoted.

The broadcasters will be happy because they’ll have more games to show on television, and the national team coaches and administrators will also be satisfied because the players will, in the end, play less games than they are now and they’ll be fresher for longer, especially when it comes to them having to do Test duty. It’s a win-win for all involved.

The Super Rugby trophy. Photo: Kerry Marshall, photosport.nz

The competition will be a single round of nine matches per team, five home and four away, or vice-versa (the nitty-gritty of how that’s determined can be sorted out) and then there are home and away semi-finals, and a final. Teams will also still have two byes.

It just doesn’t seem fair to now go and chop teams from a competition two years after giving them the chance of playing. It’s not their fault that Sanzaar messed up by changing the structure of the competition.

If we’re honest, there are certain teams that don’t belong in an A division Super Rugby competition (which is now, in its current guise). But if they play in a B section they can compete on a more equal footing, feel they’re in with a chance of winning a trophy, and as a real incentive they can try to improve and play in the A section.

It should all be about merit participation, and strength against strength... and if that means all five New Zealand teams and five South African teams play in the A section, then so be it.

It’s just a thought. Sanzaar can make of it what they want.


The Star