CAPE TOWN - After years of frustration over an unfair and senseless Super Rugby format, the Stormers will kick off a restructured, more sensible one against the Jaguares at Newlands on 17 February next year.
Sanzaar announced the new format and fixtures for the 2018 season on Thursday, and chief executive Andy Marinos admitted that the tournament “was not working with 18 teams, the structure was confusing, and the outcomes of matches were becoming too predictable.”
Following the axing of South Africa’s Cheetahs and Kings and Australia’s Western Force, the new tournament will revert to a 15-team, three-conference format. The Sunwolves join the Australian conference, while the Jaguares form part of the South African group. The New Zealand conference remains unchanged.
In the restructured competition, each team will play 16 round-robin matches - including eight inter-conference matches and eight cross-conference matches - so they will play all other teams in their conference twice, and once against four of the teams in the other two conferences (four at home and four away).
The finals series will comprise of an eight team, seven-match series, and the top teams in each of the three conferences will qualify for the quarter-finals, along with the five teams across all conferences with the most competition points (wildcards). The conference winners and the best wildcard team will host a quarter-final match.
The format will see each team play 12 of the other franchises within the regular season - so each team will play 85% of opposition teams as opposed to this year’s 70%. The South African teams will start their campaigns one week earlier than Australia and New Zealand, which will give the SA teams a bye week between the last pool game before the international Test break in June.
It will also be the last year that there will be a Super Rugby break for the June Tests, with 2019 of course being the World Cup year and the mid-year Tests moving to July in 2020. The Lions will host the Sharks directly after the Stormers fixture, while the Bulls have a bye during the opening round.
The Australian and New Zealand sides will join the Super Rugby party one week later, when the Crusaders start their title defence at home against the Chiefs, while in Tokyo, the Brumbies will go up against the Sunwolves.
Marinos was confident that Super Rugby would continue to be the ultimate selection pool for national teams from the Sanzaar unions, while he also explained that Sanzaar will be hands-on with the Sunwolves.
“Super Rugby is one of, if not the best, club rugby tournaments in the world, highlighted this year by a global TV audience of nearly 50 million and a final crowd in Johannesburg of 60 000,” Marinos said.
“A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association. We will be taking a more proactive role within its operating structures.”