The arranged marriage of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina is over
To all intents and purposes, the arranged marriage of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina is over. South Africa was said to be taking longing looks towards the Six Nations long before COVID-19 and now we have a chance to dissolve things well before the expiration of the current broadcast deal in 2025.
In an ideal world, New Zealand might go it alone for a while. Kiwi fans had become fed up with anything other than derby games and circumstances mean that’s all New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will be capable of staging in the short-term.
Australia, which includes New Zealand basketball, football, and rugby league teams in their domestic competitions, seems like a logical, if underwhelming, rugby partner. Both nations have (so far) survived the pandemic without huge incident and are suitably close to each other – and isolated from everyone else – to stage a Super 10-type competition.
That would mean New Zealand’s five franchises joining Australia’s four plus, presumably, the Western Force in a trans-Tasman tournament. It’s a competition that would include plenty of mismatches, but it’s the logical choice franchise-wise.
Sadly, whether there would be sufficient demand, both here and from overseas networks, for an all-singing, all-dancing Mitre 10 Cup might never be determined. We fans might want to see our best and brightest playing each other in the provincial arena, but the great unknown is how it would pay for itself.
What is known is that SANZAAR have Super Rugby and Rugby Championship agreements in place until 2025, no matter how unlikely it is that those obligations can be met.
So assuming the four parties have been making their own plans for 2026 and beyond, what are the chances of them simply flagging it away now?
It’s all incumbent on what else the member unions can cobble together and how attractive that then looks to the television paymasters.
Talk out of Australia is of a dissatisfaction with South Africa as a Super Rugby partner, while NZR have announced a fairly broad review of their involvement in the competition too. Throw in the travel bans that now exist and a trans-Tasman tournament sounds more feasible than some of the things SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos was suggesting a week or so ago.
All four test teams aren’t likely to become based in Sydney and how and where would the concurrent Super competition he talked about be staged as well?
SANZAAR has been a worthwhile outfit. Argentina, after top-four finishes at the 2007 and 2017 Rugby World Cups, thoroughly deserved Super Rugby and Rugby Championship recognition, but you now wonder what the future holds for them.
The early days of Super Rugby featured some very fine Sharks sides, while the Bulls will forever be celebrated for their three title-winning seasons. But in recent times it seemed the likes of New Zealand and Australia were happy to have South Africa’s money, just not the teams that came with it.
There’s no disgrace in that. Tastes and circumstances change and, boy, can’t we say that about the latter.
This isn’t the world we knew when this season’s Super Rugby competition started and it’s okay if the impact of COVID-19 is reflected in our re-drawn schedules. Teams and whole tournaments might have to go by the wayside, but only if the content-starved broadcasters are happy.
You imagine the SANZAAR members would’ve stuck it out until 2025. That the need to meet their ever-increasing running costs would have meant they honoured the current deal, no matter how disenchanted they or their fans might’ve become with it.
But the goalposts have now shifted in a big way. The SANZAAR relationship doesn’t seem viable anymore and the time’s come for NZR and company to try and sell a sexy new alternative to television executives.
They’ll never strike a more receptive audience.
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