Still only hallway through some domestic competitions [Currie Cup/NRC/Mitre 10 Cup] but the attention is diverted to the just announced, 2018 Super Rugby Draw. And after months of uncertainty and, at times, acrimony, SANZAAR will be hoping that fans lap-up the new format of 15 teams.
Last Word on Rugby gladly await the new competition, with a recognition that the larger arrangement of the last two seasons has not been the most attractive product. The loss of two South African and one Australian team has been a sour pill to take, but fans from all four continents must now get in behind the 2018 Super Rugby draw.
Revised back to 15 franchise teams, the competition is now made up of three conferences, instead of four. Five teams in each, with 16 matches per team; plus two byes per side.
New Zealand Conference:
Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
Brumbies, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs, Sunwolves
South African Conference:
Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) September 21, 2017
In the biggest change, Japan will join the Australian group which should be both a reward for the Sunwolves, and a boost for Asian rugby followers. If anything, the trip from Tokyo to Sydney or Brisbane is likely to be non-stop. No excuse for fans to travel in both directions, to follow their sides.
Fans Prepared to Travel Can Enjoy Competition
In a more natural change, the Jaguares are enveloped into a single South African conference of five teams. And again, a direct flight plan can now be developed, where fans can choose the regular schedule in the republic, or to follow the ‘Jags downunder.
The 2018 Super Rugby draws opens on Saturday February 17, when the South African Conference kicks-off with the Stormers hosting the Jaguares in Cape Town. The Lions, then host the Sharks in Johannesburg, in the only two matches scheduled this early.
All the sides then begin their campaigns, with local derby games to capture fans attention. With some sides having to travel; the Hurricanes and Brumbies, engaging their fan base is a key component for a successful 2018 Super Rugby draw.
SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos says, “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.
“Our focus is now on rolling out the restructured tournament which we believe will improve standards, competitiveness and interest. By re-establishing a strong base for Super Rugby through a consolidated tournament format, that maximises the potential in the markets in which we currently play, it will allow us to open up new markets through specific match placements and working strategically with our TV broadcasters in the future.”
Sanzaar Prepared for 10 Year Longterm Plan
“The future of SANZAAR, like any business, is linked to the delivery of a long-term strategic plan. In SANZAAR’s case a 10-year plan that was initiated in 2016 with the aim of delivering the strategic road map for the management of Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship.”
“What has been missing is the rugby conversation as we cannot hide away from the high performance and financial realities of the game in the markets in which we play. The teams that have not performed need to start producing a more attractive brand of rugby that re-engages fans, produces competitive results and winning performances.
“We have a great tournament but what is needed now is the talking to be done on the field.”
“SANZAAR has also been working hard with Japan and the Sunwolves. Their performances over the first two seasons have been disappointing and improvement is required. A structural reform has been implemented where responsibility for the Sunwolves will move from the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) to the entity known as Japan Super Rugby Association (JSRA). SANZAAR will be taking a more proactive role within its operating structures.”
“I wish to acknowledge and thank all our Broadcasters for their support and positive contribution to SANZAAR through this period. We are confident that Super Rugby has a long and exciting future ahead of it.”
2018 Super Rugby Draw Adapts to Change
Every leading professional competition needs to adapt to change. For the Super Rugby franchises, that will mean managing both a heavy local program of derby games, plus the travel factor. Balance is critical, as the Crusaders found in 2017.
The championship team is still a benchmark, and for others to ‘push them off the throne’ will take a monumental effort. But for fans, it might be just as entertaining to see who succeeds, instead of awaiting a struggling fifth or sixth conference team failing.
If anything, the draw will still challenge every player and coach. Still 15 men face them, and the reward is still just as identifiable. Super Rugby is just that – that much better than many other sports leagues (and a pathway to higher honours for many, many sportsmen).
Last Word on Rugby wish every team all the best, in their preparations for the 2018 Super Rugby draw.
*the above draw is available in a Dropbox format only.
In a side-note: all outstanding match venues/kick-off times will be confirmed by SANZAAR and the teams in the coming weeks.
That must mean that some sides are yet to determine their venues, and that more offshore games could be played in regions such as, the Pacific Islands, Asia or even further affair. So the exact schedule is still to be defined…as is any on-going court action from the Western Force.
LWOR hope that other changes, such as new team jerseys and new signings go smoothly, as to not disrupt any current fan perception of the brand. Not so much fragile, but still an ‘untested product’.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images