New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew has moved to allay fears over player welfare through the planned expansion of Super Rugby, adding that new teams in South Africa and Argentina will boost broadcast revenues and enhance the development of the game.
Super Rugby organiser Sanzar this month announced that a “preferred model” had been drawn up for the southern hemisphere rugby union competition to expand to 17 teams from 2016 through the addition of new clubs from Argentina and South Africa. Sanzar, which is the umbrella body for the Australian, New Zealand and South African unions, discussed the future of Super Rugby including possible formats that could be presented to broadcasters.
Sanzar’s current broadcast agreement is set to expire at the end of 2015, and the tournament, which currently contains five teams each from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, was already expected to expand to include a sixth South African franchise in the shape of Port Elizabeth’s Southern Kings. Argentina has become increasingly visible in international rugby union in recent years, and the national team joined the Rugby Championship tournament – featuring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – in 2012.
The Super Rugby expansion plan has led to concerns over player workload, but Tew has said the format would actually mean a shorter season and that players would be no worse off in terms of travel. “The travel will be no worse than it is now and in fact, if this is all agreed, we will have one less week of Super Rugby, which we think is a win for New Zealand rugby,” Tew said, according to the Reuters news agency. “Starting a week later means we might start in March rather than February…or we might take a week extra in June to allow players to recover and prepare for a Test match. We don't want the season to be any longer and we don't want any more games than we are playing … interestingly, Australia would like it to be considerably longer and South Africa quite a bit shorter so there has to be some compromise.”
Tew said the extra South Africa team was important because of the proportion of broadcast revenues the country brings to the competition. “If we took the cost of South Africa out and netted it against the income we would be seriously worse off so from a financial point they are important,” he added. “But equally important, anyone we talk to in coaching and high performance believe our young athletes need to play South African teams before they start playing Test matches. So we think they are vitally important from a rugby perspective too.”
Argentina has failed to win a game since joining the Rugby Championship, and Tew said the addition of a club to Super Rugby was imperative to make the national team more competitive. “They already have a price on broadcasting for a Super Rugby team,” Tew added. “And they are telling us if they can't bring the next generation of players away from Europe before they get there to play in a Super team, then they won't survive in the (Rugby) Championship.”