IT remains an unsettling time for the Super Rugby competition, especially to the teams expected to be culled from the present 18.
There has been no official announcement yet from governing body SANZAAR on which three teams will have to go from next year but what is certain is that two will be from South Africa’s six and one from Australia’s five. With the latter there is the added speculation over which of two teams will be affected – the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels.
The feeling in South Africa is one of realistic acceptance of the situation and the circumstances that have led to a decline in the country’s competitiveness at both the Super Rugby and Test levels.
More and more first class players, including Springboks, have been heading overseas, particularly to earn big money in France and Japan, mainly as a result of the falling Rand.
In 2015, 257 South Africans played for leading clubs overseas and by last year, the number had increased to 313, including 65 Springboks.
Some commentators reckon that the country has only an estimated 120 players good enough to play in Super Rugby and this would mean only four franchises.
The speculation is that of the six franchises, the Cheetahs and the Kings will have to go and whatever the sentimental arguments, results and revenue strongly support the case against the two.
There is wide acknowledgement that to bring in the revenue, attract more spectators and bring back South African rugby to its former glory, the teams left playing in Super Rugby must be more competitive.
Jurie Roux, the chief executive of South African Rugby, while supporting the cull, still thinks that having 15 teams is a bit too many and prefers the total of 12 from 1996 to 2005, an argument previously expressed by others.
Since news of the impending move to reduce the number of teams, the strongest reactions have been heard in Australia.
One of the teams expected to be culled, the Force, has served a writ against the move and one of its players, Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty, has even declared that he would only play for the Force or move overseas if the team is culled. He is however contracted to the Australian Rugby Union until 2018, a point highlighted by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Cheika has also assured that players from the team to be culled will be given contracts with the other four and he seems sure this can be done because each year, about 15 per cent of the 175 contracted players either retire, move overseas or are not re-signed.
The ARU stated last Monday that it would decide within a few days which team would have to go but the following day, extended the timeline. Both the Force and the Rebels have been asked to submit a business plan that will help influence the decision.
Just like the situation in South Africa, rugby in Australia has been on a fast slide in the last few years and results on the field are the best proof of this.
The Waratahs, champion in 2014, are struggling big time. The Reds, winner of the title in 2011, are no better.
The five franchises are down 14-0 against the New Zealand teams this year until now while last year the record was just three wins against 26 losses.
The Super 12 expanded to become the Super 14 from 2006 with the inclusion of a fifth franchise from South Africa, the Cheetahs, and a fourth from Australia, the Perth-based Western Force.
Not many were excited to have the Force on board because of its distance from the rest of the rugby-playing parts of the vast country and that the area doesn’t have a rugby history. True enough the team has been struggling since, both on field and off it, financially.
But many factors came into play, with the national unions sensing the chance to earn more revenue by having more teams.
By 2011 Australia managed to push for the inclusion of a fifth team, the Melbourne Rebels, which has been going through a similar route as the Force.
It is only now that those in South Africa and Australia realise that they simply do not have the player resources to have these many teams and results in the last few years especially prove that the push for greater participation was not supported by enough compelling reasons.