The key piece of leverage Australia has over New Zealand at the Super Rugby negotiating table
Yes, there are probably reasonable grounds to claim that those in the Kiwi game have an aura of arrogance about them with the way in which they’re going about trying to formulate a replacement league for Super Rugby next year.
But that arrogance is validated by the sheer dominance that the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders have asserted on their trans-Tasman counterparts over the past few years.
That dominance has extended to the international arena between the All Blacks and Wallabies, and the Australians ought to be kidding themselves if they believe most of their teams wouldn’t be the whipping boys against the likes of the Blues and Crusaders.
The Brumbies may be able to foot it with the rest of the Kiwi crowd, and the Reds have a good mix of experience and promising talent floating through their ranks, but it would be daft to suggest all five teams would dominate.
The standard and intensity of rugby from Auckland to Dunedin has largely put the Australian game to shame, and while there have been some tightly-fought encounters in New South Wales and Queensland, it’s a long shot to say they’ve been of Super Rugby Aotearoa quality.
If reports of a new eight-to-ten team competition are to be believed, the best Australia can hope for is the involvement of four of its sides.
At worst, as few as two teams could be included next year, which would be a massive blow for a nation championed as the best in the rugby world between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
For the sake of Rugby Australia and the future of whatever Super Rugby turns into, one would hope their administrators have been listening to the noise being made by players out of New Zealand.
If there is any chance of the Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Rebels and Western Force all being included in a competition with their Kiwi counterparts next year, it stems from the growing chorus of voices speaking out about the sustainability of New Zealand derbies.
It’s not a new concern, as even when Super Rugby was in its fully-fledged form with the involvement of South African, Argentine and Japanese teams, players from New Zealand often spoke of all-Kiwi clashes being of similar ferocity to that of test matches.
Reading back a couple of paragraphs, you’ll have noticed the reference to the intensity of Super Rugby Aotearoa in comparison to that of Super Rugby AU.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 5, 2020
From a spectator standpoint, watching New Zealand’s best players go head-to-head in test match-like conditions week-after-week for just over two months is about as good as it gets for consumers of the game.
For the players, though, it’s about as brutal as it gets, and some of the stars of the game in New Zealand haven’t shied away from voicing their concerns in the media about player welfare issues.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Podcast, both Brad Weber and Bryn Hall labelled the Kiwi competition as “unsustainable”, a sentiment which has also been echoed by the likes of Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Ash Dixon and Gareth Evans.
“A few guys are dropping off – great for viewership in New Zealand but I’m not so sure how sustainable it is,” Evans told Gold AM‘s Country Sport Breakfast last month.
“The boys love playing in the comp (but) in short no, I don’t think it is sustainable.
“Most of the boys are only coming right at the captains run the following week.
“Some of those real top games are like test match footy. From an attrition rate and boys bodies it’s pretty tough on the lads.”
Therein lies the golden ticket for all five of Australia’s teams to break into New Zealand Rugby’s plans as a source of relief from the physically taxing nature of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
As much as it might diminish the undeniable quality on offer in the Kiwi domestic league, the presence of Australian teams would probably be welcomed by the banged-up New Zealanders.
It’s no secret how much they enjoy their bye weeks purely because of the brutality they face for four matches straight.
Facing off against Australian outfits would certainly be no bye, but it would be a far cry from the attritional warfare that they are currently enduring.
The physicality of those matches will only be heightened should a South Auckland-based Pasifika franchise be inducted into the league, as is widely expected.
Offering New Zealand franchises and the Pasifika side a reprise from the savagery of each other should be the primary negotiating tool for Rugby Australia if they intend on getting all five of their clubs included.
Regardless of what shape Super Rugby takes next year – whether there’s any involvement of Australian, Pasifika or even Japanese teams – the product can only be as good as the players who are taking part in the action.
It will be of no use to anyone if New Zealand’s best players watch on from the sidelines after bashing each other the week beforehand, and that’s where Australia can lend a point of difference.
Possible Asia-Pacific Super Rugby Format
- 12 teams: Five from NZ (Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Highlanders); Five from Australia (Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Rebels, Force); One Pasifika team (Kanaloa); One Japanese team (Sunwolves/Top League composite team)
- Round-robin format; every team plays each other once; one bye week each
- 12-week regular season; play-offs consisting of semi-finals and final
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now