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Scott Robertson in favour of bold new concepts but laments South Africa loss

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has emphasised the importance of the current discussions taking place at World Rugby headquarters in Dublin regarding an aligned global calendar while also lamenting the loss of South African sides in Super Rugby.

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Key stakeholders of the game have travelled to Dublin for various meetings which will decide, amongst other things, who will host the next five men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups, a potential ‘Nations Championship’ concept to add more stakes to international ‘friendlies’, and an alignment of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere calendars.

With the World Cup situation out of the way – England will host the next tournament in 2025, Australia will host the 2027 and 2029 events, and the United States the 2031 and 2033 events – the powers that be will turn their attention to reformating the rugby calendar.

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A Nations Championship was discussed in the past but ultimately fell by the wayside. There are hopes, however, that a tweaked concept could find more support from unions around the world.

The latest rumoured variant would see the top 24 teams in the world split into first and second divisions, with inter-division matches played in the July and November calendars over a two-year period to determine division champions. Every iteration of the competition would see nations promoted and relegated based on their performances over the two-year period.

 

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It’s a concept that Robertson largely supports.

“I think it’s important we get aligned now,” he told media on Wednesday. “I think this is a great chance to do it. If every test match has got purpose and it’s leading to an outcome, it just makes sense, doesn’t it?”

There have been reservations expressed by some that the competition would further segregate the haves from the have-nots, with tier one sides likely to rarely square up with their developing counterparts – even less so than the token one or two games some tier two teams are lucky to play a year.

“I haven’t looked heavily into the itinerary side of it and I understand that’s probably the pitfall of it,” Robertson said. “I also understand [we have to ask] how do we build and grow our game.

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“With those tours, there’s more on it, it’s really clear, the purpose, it’s not just another tour. It’s a tour with a clear finale at the end of it somewhere down the track. They’ve definitely got to balance it and make sure that every nation gets equal opportunities, if they’re going to come up. I love the idea of the promotion/relegation side of it. Those games, every game counts for them as well.

“You look at all the teams, every competition around the world in any sport, football, wherever you go, that’s what factored in and makes it great.”

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Robertson also added that if the test and club calendars can be separated out so there isn’t any cross-over between the seasons, it would also open the door for a world club championship – an event the Crusaders would no doubt regularly feature at.

“If we can get everything aligned it means we can align world club champs in there as well, so we’ve got a club championship, an international championship in a cycle of four years. For me, if logistically lines up, we need to do it – a great idea.”

Speaking closer to home, Robertson indicated that while South Africa’s shift to the United Rugby Championship didn’t seem like a major blow to Super Rugby early on, the impacts are now starting to become apparent.

“I think [we’re missing them] more and more now,” he said. “The first year, I was thinking maybe we won’t miss them probably because we had [Super Rugby] Aotearoa and that was tough enough as it was. And then the second year, we had two competitions and then we realised when you watch them play or you watch those test matches that their mentality to the game, their style, their strengths… What makes our game great is a different flow, a different game, and when we play them we’re better for it. So I think we do miss them.”

The South African franchises are currently locked in a five-year agreement with the URC which effectively means Super Rugby Pacific is here to stay for the medium-term. If South Africa were to fully realign with the Northern Hemisphere unions and join the Six Nations, the impact would be felt even further by New Zealand rugby.

Robertson’s Crusaders are set to take on the Brumbies in Canberra this weekend in a game which could decide the second-ranked team heading into the Super Rugby Pacific play-offs.

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