SA teams queue for Pro12

Craig Ray

The introduction of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings into Europe’s Pro12 competition next season, will be the beginning of the end of southern hemisphere rugby’s Sanzaar alliance in its current form.

Reports leaked that the deal has been done and this reporter has ascertained that not only are two South African teams set to join the tournament, but an equal split of broadcast rights have also been negotiated.

And that’s not all. Last week Sanzaar had an emergency meeting (via conference call) to try and unscramble the egg that is the culling of three teams, mainly to humour Australia.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) faces legal action from the Melbourne Rebels and possibly the Western Force if one of those teams is cut from Super Rugby at the end of the current season.

The difficulty for the ARU is that the deal was decided by Sanzaar before the ARU had fully worked it through with its franchises. SA Rugby went to the London meeting in April with a clear mandate and a planned course of action knowing two teams were likely to be on the chopping block. The ARU went with nothing but hope.

The upshot is that the ARU are now desperately trying to find a way to retain five teams to avoid an unseemly legal battle, even though Australian rugby cannot sustain four franchises, let alone five.

Which brings us back to the Pro12 (soon to be called the Pro14, or even Pro15). The Cheetahs and the Kings are not unhappy about developments because they will still earn good money from broadcast rights (paid in pounds), have less travel and probably a better chance of success.

It’s become such an attractive proposition that a third SA franchise, whose identity I know, but won’t mention, has indicated that it would be happy to abandon Sanzaar in favour of the Pro12 as well.

The fissures in Sanzaar are quickly developing into a cavernous void. South African franchises are coming round to the idea that they might be better served in a different competition, happy to leave New Zealand and Australia to entertain each other.

The argument that SA teams are better off playing against NZ teams because they are the benchmark of rugby excellence is only true because NZ teams are strong because of SA.

NZ rugby is propped up by the vast sums of television money earned via Sanzaar, which is underpinned by a strong TV viewership emanating from SA. Without it, NZ wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its top players and very soon a player brain drain would have a negative impact on their rugby as well.

In terms of SANZAAR, the battle lines are quite simple – NZ brings the best quality and SA brings the audience and therefore money. Australia brings very little.

A move into Europe by SA teams will damage Sanzaar’s equilibrium and have a huge impact on NZ and to a lesser extent, Australia.

But the deal is nearly done and SA’s first steps towards Europe are a reality. It’s only a matter of time before this move kills off the Sanzaar consortium as we know it. And for many, it’s not a moment too soon.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • gerhard van tonder gerhard van tonder

    Just think the difference in the travelling hours, no crossing time-zones. A change for us supporters are exciting.

    It will be interesting to see when this Top 14 or Top 15 will be played because the Northern competitions only starts in October/November. I doubt that will change to fit our schedule. So our teams will play rugby in December and January, you imagine playing a game of rugby in December in Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth. Bloemfontein will be very hot and dry.

    Interesting stuff to say the least.

    • Greg

      the north and south calendars are in the process of being harmonized…

    • Greg

      the rugby calendar is about to be smoothed for north and south to the same calendar….

    • Sharky

      Totally agree! I haven’t been this excited about rugby since the Bok won the RWC in 2007. I would love the other, unnamed team thinking of making the move to be the Sharks.

      As for the rugby season issue – yes, summer rugby in SA would be interesting and pretty tough for the European teams used to playing in sub-10 degree conditions. Then you have the impact of an out-of-kilter season on the Rugby Championship. Maybe we need to revive the debate about a creating global season?

      • Shark dudette

        I am also praying that the other team is the Sharks! This latest development has me very excited!

  • John Jenkins

    The PRO 12 starts in late August. I would imagine that the Cheetahs and Kings would play their away fixtures in December/January. The alternative is evening kick-offs. The PRO 12 has 6 weeks off, 3xfortnights, when the European Cup is played. I imagine that is when the SA derbies would take place.

    The big problem is the TV schedule. Most of the SuperRugby games are early in the morning, UK time. That means it doesn’t clash with anything else. By moving the SA teams in to the PRO 12, it joins the english and French leagues, as well as against the soccer. Saturday afternoon and evening is a crowded schedule.

    • Joe Nina

      I like your idea about evening games in SA, that would take the edge off the summer heat.

  • Boomer

    Err, great article, except Au brings growth potential and is the biggest economy by a very long way.

    SA? Fewer people watching every year.

    NZ? A pimple of an economy and population.

    • Joe Nina

      I think the butt-hurt Aussie commenters here are missing the point. From a SANZAAR perspective Australia has a tiny viewing audience and is unlikely to ever grow union to the point where it overshadows league, Aussie rules etc. and because of that they bring very little advertising money. Your rugby’s subsidised by South Africa’s advertising income based on our much bigger domestic audience, as well as the European viewership that is in our time zone. On top of that there isn’t much benefit in playing against Oz teams, your rugby’s as shit as ours these days. Then we have the travel factor that hits us a lot harder than it does Oz and NZ. SANZAAR’S no longer worth it for us, not financially, not rugby-wise.

    • Sharky

      Yup, Oz brings very little. I’ll sat it again slowly – very…. little!

      Yes they have a bigger economy, but they have fewer rugby union fans so that economic clout doesn’t translate into rugby revenue. Rugby union is the 7th ranked sport by attendance in Australia and it has to compete with other similar contact sports like Aussie Rules and League – both of which are more popular.

      As for growth potential – not much of that in Oz either. The sports market is pretty saturated down under. They also lack decent rugby union feeder structures which means lots of promising union players can’t afford to play the sport without getting a day job. Also, the number of people playing the sport has been pretty stagnant over the last 10 or so years. So Oz has close to no growth potential (in terms of player numbers) without a major overhaul of their structures and close to no growth potential (in terms of spectators) due to competition with similar, more popular sports. Without growth in the latter they won’t be able to afford the overhaul needed for the former. And without money SANZAAR they’re even more screwed.

      • Luke

        Aus brings very little? Yet 3 Aus franchises have won the title, and RSA the self proclaimed rugby powerhouse has produced 1 winning franchise?

        Imagine the results if rugby was the 3rd or 4th most popular sport, rather than 7th?

        • Sharky

          All true except for the “self proclaimed rugby powerhouse” bit. Donno when the country proclaimed that.

          You can add to your argument the fact that the Brumbies have the second most final appearances, and that 2 different Aussie franchises have won the tourney since the last SA champion. And yes, if rugby was more popular in Oz then their teams would be better – so would SA rugby if the black population (which makes up 80% of the population) had more interest in it. But all those arguments miss the point.

          You can’t deny that the NZ teams bring the flair to Super Rugby. The way their teams gel just provides for the most entertaining rugby and are streaks ahead of both SA and OZ teams. They attract spectators and generate interest in the sport. You also can’t deny that SA television revenues bankroll the whole thing. SA generates much more than each of NZ and Oz. So what do the Aussies bring to the table? Oh yeah, they’ve won the tourney a few times (once more than SA) and they could be a lot better if the sport was more popular. Yeah, that’s not quite as bankable as fair and money.

          • Sharky

            Oh, and not that it makes a jot of difference, but SA have had 2 winning franchises.

  • NIKOS PETROPOULOS

    This is something I was hoping for ,from about 4 years ago ..
    This is going to push new life into Rugby in South Africa and create a challenge to our rivals economically for now but long term even more.

  • Slider

    This could be exciting, but there are many factors to overcome. The TV figures for Pro12 are waaay below the corresponding figures in England and France. Crowd sizes too. So there will be TV money but not much.

    Most games are played are 7.30pm on a Friday night, so between October and March that will mean a 9.30pm start in South Africa.

    Here’s a thought – SANZAAR are saying that we have to cut two teams from Super Rugby, but leaving it to SARU to decide which two. Instead of sending the two weakest to Pro Rugby, why don’t we send the two strongest? That will send the Aussies into a panic.

    Also, Craig, can you investigate how the money will be divided? The SANZAAR arrangement is that SARU, ARU and NZRU take a share, the franchises and provinces are only paid indirectly from that. Will the Pro Rugby money go to the Cheetahs and Kings? Will they get less from SARU? Will it be fair?

  • Slider

    Another point to remember is that with the move to a partly “global season”, leagues will finish in June, and so will Super Rugby. Mid year tests will take place in July. This presumably means that the leagues will start in October, not September. They take a three week break for the November tests,

  • Louis

    There is a lot of ausies that say they dont want our S A rugby teams in super rugby , ,I think it will be a good thing if all S A teams go and play in Europe . The Sprongboksusy also form part of the 6 nations

  • Anthony Hall

    A no brainer. But will it be the Kings or Bulls that make the move. Super Rugby is stale and we need something to spice up the game. Top 14 rugby won’t hamper the Pro12 because they aren’t involved. Go North and conquer. Sooner rather than later.

  • Nick Armstrong

    A brilliant article Craig!! :) Thank-You!! :) I hear echoes of what I’ve been saying for years – lamenting the ‘hold’ NZ and Australia have on SANZAAR decisions – since the 1990’s – while WE pay the bills – over 60% of revenue generated in SA! Ever since the Topsport Super 10 (1993 to 1995) – became the Super 12 – it has hugely disadvantaged SA rugby – and benefitted Antipodean rugby – especially NZ! The Topsport Super 10 was a competition between provinces – a competition won in 1993 by Transvaal (beating Auckland 20-17 in the final) – then by Queensland in 1994 and 1995 – beating Natal and Transvaal respectively. In other words – NO New Zealand winner. Only one finalist out of six – in three years. Then Super 12 from 1996 onwards – where, stupidly, we agreed to change the format from provinces – to regions/ franchises – a format that suited NZ to a “T” – but we were still, effectively, competing as provinces…… Ever since then – and together with year after year of referee’s bias/ cheating (remember the “Let’s get those japies” e-mail – smoking-gun proof of such) – SA/ Springbok rugby, with the few exceptions, has had to take a bow to NZ rugby… Sick & tired of it!! And – not forgetting the way SARU neglected our Currie Cup – to serve the interests of Super Rugby! STUFF Super Rugby and SANZAAR!! Bring on Europe baby – and let Aus and NZ play with themselves – fund themselves too. Grow a spine SARU – and make it happen!

  • Mike

    Hell yeah!…I’d love to see the end of cheating Auzzie refs and TMO’s…..and watching them turn a blind eye to Auzzie and NZ indiscretions whilst hammering SA teams for the slightest possible reason….. and to those that are thinking that world rugby will fall behind if we are not constantly exposed to NZ or Auzzie teams and rugby….lets not forget that Auzzie teams regularly get a hiding in Europe….and lets not forget that the last two teams to beat NZ were England and Ireland….and doing so playing their own style of rugby….hell we’ll probably end up playing a lot of NZ players once they leave NZ after the funds dry up……as a side issue…I’m also excited that I could shoot over to Europe to watch a few games much easier than travelling to NZ/AUZ….much more exciting to visit!!.

  • Seamus

    Fáilte ‘Up-Over’ lads. Gonna be fun times.

  • Podge

    There’s a lot to be figured out lads, but this is exciting stuff. The benefits for SA rugby have been discussed, but here’s a few thoughts from the Pro12 perspective. A commenter above mentions Australia’s growth potential, which is a fair point, but got me thinking about the huge potential in Europe. For a start, rugby has barely scratched the surface in Italy (population of 60M, versus 24M for Australia) – after the US and possibly Japan, Italy has the greatest growth potential. Will the addition of SA teams help here? It might, it’ll bring added interest and prestige to the league. There have also been feelers put out to include a US rugby team – possibly in Houston – in the Pro12. If SA teams can successfully integrate, it will be a huge fillip for this effort, with obvious upsides for all involved. Finally, Ireland, Wales and Scotland have a combined population of almost 15M. While rugby is well established in all three countries, the Scottish and Welsh regional sides have struggled to attract fans, despite the Scarlets recently winning the championship, and past success for Glasgow and the Ospreys. The inclusion of SA sides could be hugely beneficial for the fanbase of the Welsh sides in particular, which will strengthen the league immeasurably, and can only increase revenue for all. The downside is that this could be catastrophic for NZ and Aus, but they’ll have to figure that out themselves. Interesting times ahead.

  • Stier

    There is something else, if this works and all our teams can join Europe we can again see a strong Currie Cup. The Pro 12 and European Cup is much less games per teams if I am not mistaken and the is why their domestic competitions are also strong. I would give anything to see a strong Currie Cup with all our best players playing again. Nothing beats local bragging rights.

    • Slider

      The Pro 12 IS the domestic competition. 22 rounds then 2 weeks of playoffs for the top four. The players in that can forget about the Currie Cup. Ireland (only as an example) have limits on how many Pro 12 games their test squad players can play.

      SANZAAR have lost their way with Super Rugby. It was supposed to be an international tournament (like the European Cup) played in addition to a domestic competition (like the English Premiership or the Currie Cup), but it actually replaced domestic competition. The conference system has worsened this.

  • Peter Evans

    Interesting times. Let me get this straight. SA rugby pissed off because they are doing badly in Southern Hemisphere. You want to go to a market with 15 million in Wales, a couple million in Scotland and 5 million in Ireland. And your market is? Oh! twice that. With some 55 million population what can you do better to spark an interest and get more people watching? Would I be wrong to speculate that soccer has increased as rugby declined? PRO 12 has maybe 4, possibly 5 teams in any one year who could give Cheetahs and Kings a run. You’ll never get PRO 12 to agree to SA invasion for so many reasons. One or 2 teams is an excellent idea. If SA were to put its own house in order first there is no reason why such a large population should not be able to support 6 quality teams. France supports 14. England 12. Both have about the same population as you. As for disposable income I would argue it is very expensive to live in Europe so rugby has to compete very hard for that money. I believe the answer lies in your own back yard.

    • Billy

      Population of the Pro 12 nations are as follows
      Scotland 5.4 million
      Republic of Ireland 4.7 million
      Wales 3.1 million
      Northern Ireland 1.9 million

  • Cliff Arderne

    Some help here guys. Is CJ Stander the first South African to ply for the BI Lions?

    • Slider

      Not even close Cliff.
      Mike Catt, Brad Barritt , Matt Stevens.

      Technically speaking, Brad Barritt never actually *played* for the Lions in 2013. He joined the squad though.

  • Sean Slade Sean Slade

    Craig:

    There is this strange arrogance in SA rugby media which is brainwashing the SA public that SA has all the power because they bring the TV audiences, it’s totally misunderstood, SA’s location/time zone brings the tv numbers in Europe BUT not lately.

    Due to this arrogance there is this expectation that no matter how SA play they will bring TV numbers and its not the case. NZ bring in big TV numbers – Australia’s problem is that they play in a time zone that doesnt work well for SA or NZ

  • Oregon hunter

    Ag man…plz I watched the class Canes vs Chiefs and there was over 42 000 supporters at Westpac stadium
    And when The boks played la bleus on Loftus there were just about 22 000 supporters…so comaan just because SA rugby struggled you wana show the negatives of NZ rugby

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