Starting on Friday 26 February, Super Rugby is back on our screens.
(1) The number of teams
Super rugby officially started in 1996 with 12 teams (5 NZ, 4 SA, 3 Aus), then it moved to Super 14 in 2005 with the addition of Western Force (Aus) and the Cheetahs (SA) and in 2011 it became Super 15 with the Melbourne Rebels joining the competition.
The 2016 season will see the addition of three more teams and another re-branding exercise as we welcome Super 18.
(2) Global expansion – Argentina and Japan
In order to spread the game in to new countries (or “markets” for the more cynical amongst us), Super rugby has awarded franchises to a team from Argentina and one from Japan.
The Jaguares are based in Buenos Aires and will play at the Jose Amalfitani stadium, the current home of professional football team Velez Sarsfield. The ground has a capacity of c50,000 and has hosted a large number of the national team’s test matches, so it is no stranger to rugby.
The team has a number of names well known to regular rugby viewers such as the Pumas’ captain Agustin Creevy, Nicolas Sanchez, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Hernandez, Santiago Cordero and Joaquin Tuculet. The team is coached by the national side assistant coach Raul Perez.
Japan’s representative are the Sunwolves who are based in Tokyo but will also play 3 games in Singapore. The Tokyo stadium, the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium has a capacity of c27,000 while Singapore’s National Stadium can hold 55,000.
The squad is largely made up of Japanese players with a sprinkling of representatives from other nations such as Tusi Pisi, Riaan Viljoen and Tomas Leonardi. Ex-Hurricanes and Cardiff Blues coach Mark Hammett manages the team.
The third new team is the Southern Kings who are based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
(3) Season structure
If you have had a long day at work or are feeling a bit tired it’s probably best to come back to this section another day; following the competition structure is hard work. You have been warned.
Firstly, the teams are split in to 2 groups and each of these groups has two conferences, meaning in total there are 4 conferences, roughly based on geography.
Leaving aside the fact Tokyo is half a world away from South Africa, let’s move on….
In the group stages each team will play 15 games and have 2 byes, meaning this stage will last 17 weeks in total. Each team will play 8 home and 7 away games or vice versa.
This is where things get tricky. In the 2 Africa conferences (which have 4 teams), each team will play the other 3 teams in their conference twice – home and away. (6 games in total), a single game against each team in the other conference in their group (4 games) and a single game against each team from one of the conferences in the other group (5 games).
In the 5 team Australasian conferences, each team will play two teams home and away (4 games) and will play once against the other two teams (one at home and one away – 2 games), a single game against the teams in the other conference in their group (5 games) and a single game against each team from one of the conferences in the other group (4 games).
The top team in each of the four conferences will automatically qualify for the quarter finals or what Super Rugby are terming the Finals Series. The next top three teams in the Australasian Group and the next top team in the South African group will also qualify to the quarter finals as wildcards.
Teams are seeded depending on their position in each conference and their points and conference winners will get the home quarter final tie.
Is anyone still reading this?
(4) Bonus points
The automatic, win or lose, four-try bonus point has been scrapped. A bonus point will now be awarded for scoring three more tries than the opponent does.
(5) Law application
In theory, the officials should be enforcing the law guidelines around some of the illegal practices at the maul which we covered in a previous blog. The guidelines are here. It will be interesting to see how this area is officiated.
The season has barely kicked off yet there has already been a great deal of negative commentary surrounding the newly expanded competition. Some of the main issues raised are:
- It is further diluting a tournament that has been on the slide for a decade
- There are too many teams that can’t win the title
- Changes to the bonus point system have come through late in the day and with little consultation with the teams
- The players are now travelling huge distances
- The competition structure is very confusing
- The lack of a uniform round robin tournament means some teams will have easier seasons than others
- Concerns over the strength of the new Southern Kings (who have also had financial problems) and the Sunwolves teams (who couldn’t name a coach until late December)
- The Australasian conferences are far stronger than the African conferences, based on historical performances
There are certainly some exciting aspects to this new Super Rugby format, but time will tell if this expansion has been a step too far in terms of geographical spread and a dilution of playing strength.
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