Super Discrimination?

Super Rugby is set for its most significant evolution yet with four new conferences, three new teams, two new countries and one new trophy.  Well, at least that is the opening line in a SANZAR statement.  On Friday when the defending champion Highlanders visit the Blues, it will usher in the latest tweaking of the Super Rugby format.  Last season’s 15 franchises are joined by the Kings and debutants from Argentina, the Jaguares, and Japan, the Sunwolves.

It’s super complicated, to put it one way, but in a nutshell, the Australasian group features the Australian and New Zealand conferences each comprising their existing five teams while the South African group contains two conferences with the Bulls, Cheetahs, Stormers and the Sunwolves on one side and the Kings, Lions, Sharks and the Jaguares on the other.  Not sure how the Japanese and Argentine sides “became South African” but maybe when Jurie Roux can take some time out from his legal and personal credibility battles, he can elaborate.  Teams will play six matches within their own conference, five against an Australasian conference, four against a South African conference and will have two byes across the 17-week regular season.

The regular season will be followed by a knockout Finals Series featuring eight teams; the four conference winners plus the three next highest-ranked teams from the Australasian group and the next highest-ranked team from the South African group.  Conference winners will be seeded 1-4 based upon overall points from the regular season and the highest-ranked team will play at home in each match-up.  Okay, I hope you got that.

Now to try and put this all in context I have picked one team from each country to create an idea of what a team from each part of the world will come up against.

New Zealand’s Blues will start at home before playing away in their own country and then at home again before travelling to Australia and then they enjoy a bye.

Australia’s Brumbies begin with back-to-back home games before an away game in Australia and then a trip to New Zealand.

South Africa’s Cheetahs are at home for two matches before flying to Singapore and then back to South Africa for an away game followed by a Bloemfontein fixture.

Argentina’s Jaguares begin in South Africa with two away games followed by a bye and then a couple of home games.

Japan’s Sunwolves start at home and since they are a new team, SANZAR chose to give them a bye in week two.  Thereafter the new kids on the block will enjoy three home games in a row but crucially they will alternate between Tokyo and Singapore in this period.

Factor in that a flight from Tokyo to Singapore is around six-and-a-half hours, and you can see why I think the odds are stacked against the Japanese franchise.  Almost certainly thanks to Roux, the South African franchises will play the Sunwolves in Singapore save for the Lions, who will have to fly to the Japanese capital.  What did the Joburg team do wrong, you wonder?  I have also been told that they had not started training as at a month ago so you might as well award them the wooden spoon now.

However the Jaguares are a different story altogether.  The Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) decreed that since professional rugby has now come to Argentina, all players wanting to represent Los Pumas will have to play at home and represent the Jaguares.  That translates to this new franchise being the Argentine national team in a different colour jersey.  These guys are going to be strong.  The travelling schedule is most gruelling on this new side though.  See the below flight travel times table to get a gauge of how heavily the tournament schedule is weighted against the boys from Buenos Aires, and indeed the troops from Tokyo.

 

Auckland

Buenos Aires

Johannesburg

Perth

Singapore

Sydney

Tokyo

Auckland

 

13 hr 30 min

16 hr 20 min

6 hr 15 min

9 hr 55 min

3 hr 5 min

10 hr 45 min

Buenos Aires

13 hr 30 min

 

13 hr 50 min

1 day, 1 hr

1 day, 1 hr

18 hr 20 min

1 day 3 hr

Johannesburg

16 hr 20 min

13 hr 50 min

 

9 hr 20 min

10 hr 40 min

11 hr 50 min

19 hr 15 min

Perth

6 hr 15 min

1 day, 1 hr

9 hr 20 min

 

5 hr

2 hr 30 min

12 hr 50 min

Singapore

9 hr 55 min

1 day, 1 hr

10 hr 40 min

5 hr

 

7 hr 45 min

6 hr 30 min

Sydney

3 hr 5 min

18 hr 20 min

11 hr 50 min

2 hr 30 min

7 hr 45 min

 

9 hr 25 min

Tokyo

10 hr 45 min

1 day 3 hr

19 hr 15 min

12 hr 50 min

6 hr 30 min

9 hr 25 min

 

The unfortunate Jaguares will at one point be in New Zealand for three straight away games before taking the nearly 11-hour flight to Tokyo to face the Sunwolves.  They have a week to get back home but an entire day and three hours of that will be taken up by travel time from Tokyo to Buenos Aires.  My thinking is that travel fatigue will ultimately kill off the hopes of Raul Perez’s players.

The Australasian sides again seem to have it easiest with at least 13 of their fixtures taking place either on the land of the long white cloud or Australia.  In conclusion, I would have to say it looks like Australasian (read New Zealand) dominance of the competition is set to continue.  I would be in favour of a 16-team tournament featuring four groups of as many teams.  After a round robin home and away phase, the competition progresses to quarter-, semi- and final, resulting in a maximum of nine matches for a team.  It will all be over at the end of May thereby opening up the calendar for Springboks to play in the Currie Cup, or better yet, rest their bodies.