With the impasse between SANZAR continuing, New Zealand appears to be somewhat of a silent partner. Should they be making their own demands beyond scheduling?
ARU boss John O’Neill is headlining his usual loud noises, which seems to be the bulk of the verbal traffic coming from the Australasian contingents. Steve Tew, his New Zealand counterpart, has been more of a voice of reason, without making his own such requirements.
Meanwhile, South Africa has been stringent; or as O’Neill puts it, stubborn. They are being un-flexible largely due to the Currie Cup, which they do not want to see compromised.
While some would argue that Tew hasn’t been insistent enough in regard to his own backyards tournaments, he does make a succinct point. That the revenue earned from the central SANZAR (or perhaps NZAR?) agreement is essentially what sustains the game in New Zealand, and hence it’s 26 provincial unions and respective competitions.
The other requirements, such as moving the start date and intruding on the midyear test windows, they are for a separate debate.
But what right does South Africa have to enter a sixth team?
Their internal politics and ultimately flawed management is of no concern to New Zealand, Australia or the supporters.
The greatest mistake of which is that the five current South African teams do not represent the entire 14 South African unions, whereas the New Zealand “franchise” system represents all 26 of theirs.
Tens of thousands of South African players are untouched by their current five teams.
The Southern Spears were supposed to be entered into the competition in 2007, based on a system where the lowest ranked South African team would have to exit the Super 14 to be replaced by the Spears with a promotion/relegation eventually coming into play.
This did not happen, of which the issue eventually ended up in the high court after a jumbled dispute which never really appeared to be resolved.
So we now see SARU pushing for the inclusion of the Southern Kings into the competition, with the team scheduled to play the British and Irish Lions on June 16.
This is essentially the union trying to rectify a mistake it had an opportunity to correct three years ago.
SANZAR as an overall body should not have to pay the price for this, with at least two of the five current South African teams consistently bringing up the bottom four places of the table (and sometimes even three).
Equally O’Neill has pushed for a fifth side, but with whose resources? That of the Pacific Islands may be a great idea on the surface, but has not been offered ironclad details of which exact players and who will fund the side.
Australian rugby does not have its own resources to fill or create a fifth team. It is short minded egotism on the part of O’Neill to think that his country without a domestic competition can operate the same number of teams as New Zealand.
This may also be an issue in the future is South Africa is cut loose. Can we really have the same number of teams from New Zealand and Australia?
New Zealand, not its SANZAR partners has these resources.
Let us take some of the major independent kiwi unions.
This season Wellington by itself wields eight All Blacks. Auckland has five. North Harbour has four not including the incoming Luke McAlister. Canterbury has the twin pillars of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, plus Brad Thorn and the incoming Chris Jack at the Tasman union.
Ordinarily this would be irrelevant, as these internationals would be on representative duties during the ANZC, but not during the Super rugby tournament.
So here is the proposal, simple and clean.
The Highlanders remain the same, drawing on its three current unions of Otago, Southland and North Otago. As do the Blues, who retain Auckland, North Harbour, and Northland. The Crusaders keep all of their areas, Canterbury, Buller, West Coast and Mid and South Canterbury, and Tasman.
The Chiefs keep Waikato, Counties, Thames Valley and King Country – but lose Bay of Plenty.
The Hurricanes keep Wellington and Taranaki - but lose seven of their smaller unions.
So then Bay of Plenty would merge with Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, East Coast, Horowhenua-Kapiti, Poverty Bay, Wairarapa Bush and Wanganui.
The two “stripped” franchises would lose barely any players. By rough calculations, six all up.
But Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty, who came third and fourth in last year’s ANZC, would merge with the Meads and Lochore Cup champions Wanganui and Poverty Bay; as well as three other small unions.
So then countless players unrepresented at Super rugby level, would have their chances at the highest level. On recent results, and player strength, the evidence is far more compelling than is a case for South Africa or Australia.
NEW ZEALAND TEAMS
Current season standings
2009 - 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 10th
Recent seasons standing
2008 - 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 11th
2007 - 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th
2006 - 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th
2005 - 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th